MATES in Construction: Supporting Good Mental Health & Wellbeing
Sarah Constructions is a notable organisation within the South Australian construction industry and as such, we’re absolutely committed to leading by example in delivering a safe and supportive work environment. Within this commitment, Sarah has aligned with MATES in Construction, to provide suicide prevention awareness and mental health education to our employees.
With restricted travel and the disruptive impacts of Covid-19, never has it ever been more important to be aware of how you and your mates are coping.
What is MATES in Construction?
MATES in Construction (MATES) is a suicide prevention and support program, operating in the Construction, Mining and Energy industry. The program reduces suicide by creating workplace communities of people who can look out for each other and offer help and support when needed. They believe suicide is everyone’s business and provide ways for the Australian construction and allied industries to take an active role in improving the mental health and wellbeing of workers.
Established in 2008, MATES was born in response to a major report on suicide (the ‘AISRAP Report’), which found that suicide rates in the industry were higher than the Australian average for men, and that youth suicide within the industry could be as much as 2.38 times more common than among other young Australian men.
Supporting the Wellbeing of Construction Industry Workers
Charles Totani, HR Business Partner at Sarah Constructions, says the program is of huge importance. “On average, 190 Australians working in the construction industry take their own lives each year. Work in the construction industry can be demanding and highly pressured, to ensure strict deadlines are met and service delivery is to a high standard. As such, it has become imperative to ensure consistent care for workers within the industry, to ensure everybody goes home safely to their families.”
CEO of MATES In Construction SA, Alan Suridge, advised what action needs to be taken. “Organisations need to actively show that positive mental health is a priority in the workplace. Adopting appropriate policies and practices is important, as is providing training and support for workers. Normalising conversations around mental health and wellbeing on a regular basis, such as at team meetings, toolbox talks, and in regular corporate communications, is an essential component.”
It’s no small task to normalise conversations around mental health, particularly in such a traditional male-dominated industry. It’s important therefore, says Alan, for leaders to step up. “To create open and supportive workplaces, leaders need to lead by example”. This means having open conversations about tough topics and putting up their hand for support when needed or offering help and support to others. Demonstrating there are no negative consequences for speaking up and seeking support is essential.”
Supporting Mental Health at Sarah
“Sarah Constructions has been involved with MATES for many years and we are proud to be an industry partner,” commented Richard Hough, Construction Manager at Sarah. “Since 2014 Sarah has run multiple general awareness training sessions for our staff. Most staff, including site and project management personnel, elect to undertake the Connector training with MATES.”
“The MATES training sessions help to raise awareness of the mental health issues that individuals face and provides the necessary tools to enable our staff to notice the signs and, more importantly, assists them with how to open up a conversation with colleagues at work in regards to their feelings and emotions.”
As the old adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Breaking down the barriers to conversation around mental health makes it easier and more likely for people to ask for help when they need it.
“The more awareness and conversations people can have around the topic, the easier it is to break down the stigma. In fact, I have personally benefited from the awareness training. I feel more prepared to engage and encourage conversations about people’s wellbeing in the workplace,” says Richard.
Educating the Next Generation of Construction Workers
MATES in Construction teamed up with Sarah to deliver part of the Cert II in Construction Vet Course for MBHS around General Mental Health Awareness Training.
“Education on Mental Health is vital,” says Charles, “MATES in Construction in instrumental in increasing awareness of Mental Health in our industry and it is important to us that students obtain a strong understanding of how important their work is in the construction. MATES provides the students with General Awareness Training, which outlines the problem of suicide in the industry and provides guidance to recognise the signs and signals of a person at risk, and how to help.”
When we consider that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work, we can start to appreciate the scale of the problem. Sarah Constructions believes as MATES does that “suicide is everyone’s business”.
“It’s very important to understand the numbers and how relevant mental health is within the construction industry,” says Charles. “The only way we can combat the problem is if we work together collectively, not just as individuals.”