The construction industry has launched a programme to help reduce suicide among its workers

The construction industry has launched a new on-site programme - Mates In Construction - to try to reduce its highest rate of suicide of all industries in New Zealand.

It is designed to help workers recognise the signs of mates "doing it tough", to start talking to them about it rather than doing nothing, and to get long-term support for the people that need it.

If successful it would soften the macho culture blamed in part for the construction industry having the highest suicide figures for any industry group - 6.9 per cent, just a bit higher than the forestry and farming at 6.8 per cent.

The programme has been running for 11 years in Australia where construction industry suicides have fallen 8 per cent.

In the year to June 2019 47 people in construction in New Zealand took their own lives.

General manager of Mates In Construction, Victoria McArthur, said the charity had been established with contributions from 62 organisations in the construction industry including foundation partners CHASNZ (Construction Health and Safety NZ), Watercare and Central Interceptor. Large contributors include Scentre Group, Naylor Love and Thermosash.

McArthur said the organisation was not tied to any of the contributors. Large organisations had contributed but also a lot of the "little guys" including subcontractors to get the programme off the ground.

To reach more workers and to keep going it would be looking to Government for more funding.

The programme is being rolled out first in Auckland where about third-thirds of the construction workforce is employed but will spread to other regions and other workforces in civil construction and residential building.

The programme aimed to provide skills that would help workers start talking with someone that was 'doing it tough', help them recognise the signs of someone who was struggling and to do something about it and establish worker support for mates in the workplace.

The Mates team would include field officers and case managers to deliver the programme and be available when needed for critical incidents on a work site.

"On-site, it's sometimes just noticing a change in your mate, and then simply asking 'are you ok'. We are working to equip people on site to recognise the signs that can lead to suicide, start conversations about suicide and connect them to help.

"We want to ensure that we let those that are struggling know that they're not alone," McArthur said.

Many factors contributed to suicide risk like stress, long hours, job insecurity, and outside pressures like relationship breakdowns.

"One of the biggest factors is our men being stoic and not seeking help. It's ok to talk to your mates about it."

Mates In Construction is a training and support programme for workers in the construction industry.

A study by BRANZ ( Building Research Association New Zealand) released last year cited a culture of "toxic masculinity" in the sector like "take a concrete pill and harden up" attitude, boom and bust cycles, drug and alcohol abuse, customers demanding more, an undervalued career, and conflicts between young and older men on site

The Mates programme offers three levels of training which is free to workers. Companies and organisations pay through sponsorship-type agreements. They cost from $5000 a year to more than $100,000, McArthur said.

The first level of the programme is "General Awareness Training", a one-hour session introducing workers to the nature of the problem and providing practical guidance on how to help other workers.

The next level is four-hour "Connector" training for people on site who want to become a Connector, someone trained to help another person in crisis while connecting them with professional help.

The third level is ASIST training, a two-day course for individuals who want to gain skills to talk to a person contemplating suicide and learn how to respond with the aim of reaching a "safe plan" with the worker.

The programme is launching on five large commercial construction sites in Auckland.

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