Welcoming Mates in Construction to Site Safe's Wellington headquarters

07 Jul 2022

Mates in Construction pic.jpg

For Graeme Haxton and Hayden Griffiths, the ultimate goal is to prevent as many suicides as possible. 

The pair, who are field officers for MATES in Construction, are no strangers to suicide and have both been impacted by it personally. They draw on their experiences to open up discussions within the construction industry and help provide mental well-being training for the lower half of the North Island.

"It's simple, if we don't do anything, then nothing changes, and we're going to continue to lose too many more people as a result," Hayden said.

Hayden and Graeme have been based in Site Safe's Wellington headquarters for the past few months, but most of their time has been spent on the road, meeting with many organisations across the lower North Island.

And for a good reason, the country's suicide statistics are confronting, with the construction industry claiming the highest suicide rate of all sectors in New Zealand.

A recent University of Otago study completed on behalf of MATES in Construction found that construction workers are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than the rest of the New Zealand workforce.

The study, which draws on data from closed cases of suicide between July 2007 and June 2019, also found Māori men to be grossly overrepresented, making up more than 21 per cent of suicides in our industry.

The pair told Site Safe that sharing their experiences with suicide was helping change attitudes and dispelling the common myths about suicide.

Usually, Hayden and Graeme are running General Awareness Training and giving people "the tools" to spot when others may be struggling.

"It’s learning to spot what we like to call the invitations that someone gives off or things that you might sense or hear that someone’s not travelling too well,” Hayden said.  

"We're just trying to make them more aware of everyday body language and changes in the behaviour of their mates and things like that.”

He said they were delivering first aid to the industry and removing barriers in people's lives concerning their mental well-being.

“We're not claiming to be counsellors [or] to fix people’s problems. Our job is to be the first aid, to keep people safe and connect them to the next level of our help.

“When it comes to our perspective and what we've been through, it comes across as super authentic, and people receive our message better because we include our stories in our delivery.

 "As soon as people hear that, it goes from a presentation to a conversation, and people are able to relate, and they'll come up to us afterwards and [share their stories], and it just sparks the conversation further.”

Hayden said this was important to break down the stigma around talking about mental health issues.

“That stigma is very much apparent at the moment and especially in the construction industry, and there is this macho man kind of thing, where you take a concrete pill and harden up, and when Graeme and I stand up in front of people, it's very vulnerable, and that's exactly where the strength lies, if you can be vulnerable and be open and transparent it’s key, and all of our field officers are the same.”

Graeme said it was rewarding knowing they are creating more awareness and saving lives.

"I have recently had the opportunity to save a couple of lives and understanding that you can do something about it, and the methods that we teach are so bloody simple and so easy that these just become a part of everyone's everyday thinking."

Not only were they preventing suicidal outcomes, but also teaching people to look after everyone within their communities, he said.

“Personally, my goal is to make sure that no one has to go through the experiences that I did in coping with suicide.”

Hayden said MATES in Construction was “very grateful” for its more than 140 partners in the industry, such as Site Safe, who help support their cause. 

He said being based out of Site Safe’s Wellington office has helped to increase their impact on the industry.

“It makes our job a lot more accessible to be able to train and educate a lot more people. Without Site Safe, we wouldn't be able to do half the amount of work we've been able to.”

Site Safe Chief Executive Brett Murray said it was important to Site Safe to be working alongside MATES in Construction.

“Mental Health is at the forefront of the mind of the industry and as an industry association it's great for Site Safe to be able to support and collaborate with Mates in Construction in what is an extremely important area."

MATES in Construction Research and Social Policy Manager Amanda Hunter said MATES is “extremely proud of and grateful for our partnership with Site Safe”.

“They have made our field officers feel like part of the whānau in Pōneke and have demonstrated time and time again, their commitment to reducing the number of suicides in our industry. Together with our partners like Site Safe we will turn the tide on the high number that we lose to suicide every year.”