MATES in Construction

Nominee/entrant details

MATES in Construction

Organisation details

Size: 6-19 staff

Industry: Health Care and Social Assistance

Organisation background

MATES in Construction aims to reduce psychological distress and suicidality amongst our construction community. This is done by: • increasing help seeking, help offering and the acceptance of help • promoting the increase of social connections in the workplace, mates helping mates • reducing public stigma • catalyzing a shift in construction industry culture towards more mentally health workplaces and a sharing of the MATES values across the industry. Significantly we are a community of common identity and interest. What MATES has done, in a very short time is create trust within this community. Our Agenda is not to further ourselves or any particular organisation, our role is not to be the strength – but to make the best of the strength that already exist in workplaces.

Executive summary

With a construction workforce that is statistically more likely to be at risk of suicide, our programme offers a unique opportunity to reach people in their workplace – vital for a group that is unlikely to actively seek out support on their own. Construction workers have the highest proportion of suicides across all industries and are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work. The MATES programme builds and strengthens communities in the workplace helping our people to be supportive and provide an environment that encourages positive wellbeing.

Background on situation and opportunity

We know that construction workers have the highest proportion of suicides across all industries and are at least six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work. Overall construction suicides account for approximately 20% of workforce suicides, although construction accounts for only 9.5 % of the workforce. Currently we are losing around one worker every week to suicide in the industry. Part of what is driving this trend is the cohort of people who work in construction – more likely to be male, more likely to be older, more likely to be Maori or Pasifika. This is not a group that is easy to reach with traditional mental health support programmes, and it is a cohort who for a range of demographic reasons are much less likely to seek help.


With a workforce of poor help seekers it is important to deploy a strategy that builds trust amongst the individuals. The peer support model that MATES uses allows us to work at the coal face with those at risk. Our Field Officers are trained in suicide intervention skills and have vast experience in the building sector making it easier to engage on site. We work shoulder to shoulder to break down stigma and see results. The Field Officer’s role is best modelled on those workers that they walk alongside on the site, although they are representing MATES, they are the link between workers in the workplace and the organisation, empowering them and enabling them to support each other. Their role is to build MATES into the workplace so that the workers trust and become integrated into the MATES model. Once this has been achieved the programme becomes part of the fabric of that workplace - where workers take ownership of MATES and it becomes impossible to take these learnings out of the workplace. It is now an integral part of workplace culture.


To be most effective, the MATES programme is delivered in-person by qualified and well-trained staff with specific building and construction industry experience and often lived experience themselves. MATES Field Officers have walked along the same road; they see themselves as workers within the industry. This is something that industry was adamant about when MATES was conceived. We are by industry, for industry and not seen as externals coming in from outside. MATES provides suicide prevention through community development programmes on sites, and by supporting workers in need through Case Management and a 24/7 helpline.

Engagement and communication

The MATES programme has been developed for construction in a way that allows workers and employers in an industry to adopt the programme as their own. The programme works on a “bottom up” model, engaging workers at the shopfloor. By creating a sense of ownership amongst the workers themselves of the programme, it bypasses many of the reservations that stop workers in this cohort from reaching out.


the impact of the MATES programme has been significant. The numbers only tell part of the story. We know that we have delivered the programme onto over 250 sites, we have taken almost 17,000 workers through our General Awareness Training and inducted 790 Connectors on site. Significantly over 1/3rd of those going through the programme have asked for a call-back to engage with Field Staff. The impact then ripples beyond site into our own communities. We have heard of the skills that have been learn being used beyond the workplace and travelling amongst whanau and friends. That is where the real impact can be made.


The MATES programme has drawn on the available networks internally and externally in industry, to ensure that we are adopting best practice in the space of suicide prevention. These networks and collaboration beyond the sector have been facilitated both through the organisation and via the resources and networks available through our partnerships and relationships formed by our Academic Director Dr Chris Bowden.To build on these successes and ensure MATES is following absolute best practice and is guided by the empirical evidence of what works, MATES has commissioned independent academic research into the efficacy of their programme. When the programme was introduced, we made changes to make it more culturally responsive to the New Zealand multicultural audience, therefore we needed to evaluate it to ensure it is both effective and safe here. An summary by Professor Marc Wilson, Acting Dean of the Wellington Faculty of Science at Victoria University, has noted ‘statistically significant’ findings from a study of 8,492 participants in our workplace training.

Innovation and creativity

Training is only one small part of our role. It is to be considered as a tool to do their main role - creating relationships and trust amongst workers on sites. We are continuously flexing to find the best engagement methods to raise awareness on sites and offer support. In our fist year this was especially true as covid took hold. Suddenly, many people who were being served by a workplace-focused organisation couldn’t go into those workplaces to do their jobs. Lockdowns meant new problems, including financial and generalised stress, anxiety about job security, and dealing with anger. We set up an online smoko room. It was every day for about an hour, and we may have two or three sessions a day. People would come on in groups or as a company, and then we would be able to talk to them and share stuff. You knew what they're going through. We told people to ask anything they wanted to and they did. They wanted to know if they would still have jobs, if they were going to have their pay docked. It was cool to have a person there from the company who could answer those questions

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Referee details

Murray Robertson, EGM (Hawkins)

0274816526 • [email protected]

Key contact

Victoria McArthur, CEO (MATES in Construction)

0272185755 • [email protected]

3 Months
Since posted
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