Leighs Construction

Nominee/entrant details

Leighs Construction

Organisation details

Size: 200-499 staff

Industry: Construction

Organisation background

Leighs was founded in 1995 with the vision for a construction and project delivery company built with integrity. With over two decades of experience, our dedicated and growing team has a proud history of executing diverse projects across a broad range of sectors, including government, health, education, commercial, retail, tourism, infrastructure, and primary industries. With 300 staff, our team have been delivering exciting and innovative projects throughout New Zealand, the wider Pacific and even Antarctica. We’ve gained a reputation for completing projects on-time and to the highest standard, with dedication and a passion for delivering the best for our clients.

Executive summary

At Leighs Construction, we recognise mental wellbeing as being just as important as physical health and safety. The construction industry has one of the highest rates of suicide out of all sectors, and our mental health programme ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ seeks to enable our people right across the business to recognise signs and offer support so that they and their teammates can be safer, healthier, and happier. With 53 trained Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) nationwide, our programme focus is to offer support and to build a positive culture of “this is how we do things around here”.

Background on situation and opportunity

When Leighs first established the ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ programme in 2020, we had 16 staff trained as MHFA’s across the business. As we saw the initial success of the programme, combined with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, we knew that we had to grow our programme to suit our ever-changing environment. An additional 41 staff volunteered and were trained up in 2021. Training is made available to any employee who wishes to partake in the programme, as we believe that the more people who are involved, share the knowledge, and have the tools to recognise mental health issues, the more beneficial it is to all.


Leighs have a Health & Safety Committee, and it was at one of their regular meetings that one of our Representatives who was on the ground suggested that we start a mental health programme. The wider committee agreed this was a great idea and a sub-committee was formed to carry out research and start outlining focus areas and goals. Leighs recognises that mental health issues and suicide rates are especially high for the Construction sector and urgent action needs to be taken to address this. Research shows that construction workers are five times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work, and 6.9% of overall suicides were in the construction industry, making it the highest proportion across all industries in New Zealand . With these statistics and this plan in mind, the team developed a series of focus areas to target managing mental health and wellbeing at work: Protect – Identify risks to mental health and wellbeing. Eliminate at the source where practicable. Foster – Develop the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and teams. Support – Provide access to appropriate workplace and clinical support. Reclaim – Restore the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and teams. Refer to reference material 3. As a main contractor, Leighs has the responsibility to look after the health and safety of not only our own staff on projects, but also the subcontractors. This extends our numbers from 300 out to 1500 at times, and part of our programme goals is to extend our mental health and wellbeing support and services to include everyone on our project sites.


Following the approval to start a mental health and wellbeing programme, and the development of some focus areas, the subcommittee was tasked with finding the best course for our company. They selected the St Johns Mental Health First Aid Workshop. Please refer to reference material 1. The sub-committee came up with a proposal and presented it to the Executive Team for review in 2020, which was well received and approved. The concept was adopted and developed from other successful similar programmes overseas, with the final result being a programme called ‘I’ve Got Your Back’. There were 16 staff across the business who registered their interest in the programme and underwent the MHFA course initially. Within the space of one year, the Executive team clearly saw how beneficial and effective the programme was for both direct employees and subcontractors. They recognized the need to have certified MHFA’s in every area of the business and in early 2021 another 41 voluntary staff members were approved to take the course, taking our current team of qualified MHFA’s up to 53 (18% of the business), ranging from the CEO all the way through the company. Leighs intends to train another 20 people in the near future, and this time the trainees will include subcontractors and consultants that we work with on our projects. This is specifically to cater for a new $200m+ long term project that will be getting underway in Taranaki, which is remote in relation to our office bases. This will help to ensure that the wider site team is well catered for, regardless of their location.

Engagement and communication

The Mental Health and Wellbeing sub-committee developed a number of measures to raise awareness for the ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ programme and to make it as simple as possible for any person in/on any of our offices or sites to receive help. One method that has been implemented is the use of the programme logo as an identifier next to each MHFA’s name when they sign into site/office on the iPad. Refer to reference material 2. Another method, using the same concept, has been to create stickers from the logo. These are placed onto the hard hats of qualified MHFA’s. This makes them visible to the wider team whilst on site, should anyone require assistance. Refer to reference material 2. Posters were also developed for our various regions, displaying the images of the local, qualified MHFA’s, describing what the programme is about, and explaining how anyone can go about contacting them. These are regularly updated when new staff become qualified, and are displayed in office areas and at site sign in locations. Refer to reference material 4. Our MHFA’s attend site Pre-Start Meetings & Toolbox talks to share details about the programme with all Leighs staff and sub-contractors. We recognize that our MHFA’s are not counsellors, however they are there to be a safe, familiar first point of contact and to support and direct staff in the right direction when and if required. Leighs EAP program is Benestar. Refer to reference material 5.


The Leighs Health and Safety Committee reports our MHFA’s Interactions with our staff and subcontractors to the Leighs Board each month on our Health & Safety Dashboard (no names, only numbers). This has been a great way to track the positive impact our programme has had both on sites and in offices, and is a key reason that the Executive Team approved another 41 staff being trained around the country. The table below is an outline of they type of content that is sent to the Board for review. NORTH ISLAND & SOUTH ISLAND Number of Leighs staff spoken to: Number of Subcontractors spoken to: Number of Leighs staff referred: Number of Subcontractors referred: The leader of the MHFA Team, Jen Kean, hosts a monthly catch up to which all the MHFA’s are invited to attend. This is an informal, confidential platform to have discussions about any issues or ideas the team may have, challenges they may have faced, and actions that we could take. No minutes are taken, or names revealed to maintain privacy and anonymity for staff. We have found that the wider team are eager to be involved in this programme, and at times we have even had a waitlist of staff wanting to participate in the next training session. Some of the feedback from people who have undergone the training, is that it has been self-healing, which is a great result. We believe that this highlights how well the initiative has been received, and that it is on its way to becoming a fully integrated part of business operations.


Our programme has been embraced by all areas of the business, with the majority of the Leighs executive team having undergone the training, and many of our office and site-based teams as well. This programme has a goal of being effective and part of our company culture, and the only way for this to work is for total inclusivity, diversity, and open communication. We recognise that there is a historical stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly for men, and we have been striving to make our programme and services accessible to all, and to reduce any fear that may be associated with coming forward for help. One way we have targeted this, is by opening the programme up to all levels of staff, not just senior or leadership staff, and to both office based and site-based personnel. This removes the obstacle of needing to involve a manager, and instead allows a person to contact a peer instead, making the conversation more informal. We also recognise the need for all levels of the business to be catered for, and for the Board and Executive teams to fully understand and appreciate what the programme is delivering. Another target of our programme is to ensure that every single Leighs project and office has access to mental health and wellbeing resources. If a project does not have a MHFA allocated to it, then we would look to extend an open invitation to the team to include interested parties in the next training session. We would also ensure that they had regular visits from trained a MHFA on a regular basis until there was a permanent resource on site.

Innovation and creativity

Leighs places a strong emphasis on providing our staff with the tools to either ask for help, or to have access to resources to manage mental wellbeing on their own. We understand that no single approach works for every person which is why we use a variety of different avenues to improve our workplace mental health and aim to incorporate feedback from our MHFA team. One great example of this is when Leighs reached out to ‘Sam the Barber’ who travels Aotearoa and promotes men’s mental health and suicide prevention whilst providing haircuts for koha. We had Sam visit one of our Christchurch project sites to do just this, and following the haircuts he delivered a toolbox talk that touched on men’s mental health issues. It was great timing in the lead up to Christmas, with demanding work programmes, challenging temperatures, and external stressors for some, especially immigrants with families abroad. ‘They are all a fairly staunch bunch, but we’re really stoked with Sam’s moving toolbox talk, and everyone was very engaged, which was pretty awesome to see.’ said Mark Thompson, Site Manager. Whilst previously, toolbox talks would primarily focus on physical health and safety on the project site, we now include a diverse range of topics including mental health, personal physical health as well as project specific health and safety. In another more recent example, we have engaged New Zealand Psychologist and Author, Nigel Latta. He will shortly be presenting to our entire North Island and South Island teams on Resilience in Anxious Times with a focus on simple things we can do to manage our stress, particularly following the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 and the ways that our lives have changed. These events are run alongside our day-to-day practices, which we are constantly evolving and improving.

Supporting materials (optional)

Photograph of key staff (optional)

Link to video (optional)

Referee details

Rachel Butcher, Training Delivery Manager, South Island (St Johns NZ)

027 5530014 • [email protected]

Key contact

Jennifer Kean, National Business Improvement and Assurance Manager (Leighs Construction)

021 734 154 • [email protected]

3 Months
Since posted
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