The Mates in Construction (MIC) charity organisation uses the Australian tradition of ‘mateship’ to achieve one simple but important purpose: to reduce suicide incidence in the building and construction industry.It’s an important goal. An average of 190 construction workers take their lives each year: six times more than die from a workplace accident. One reason for this is the building and construction industry employs a lot of young males. Death by suicide accounts for a third of all deaths among young Australian males, who are three times more likely to die from intentional self-harm than females.
Young male construction workers are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other young Australian men.
Everyone can be part of a solution for saving lives.
To change this, MIC operates from the premise that ‘suicide is everyone’s business’, and that everyone can be part of the solution. The organisation’s goals are: to raise awareness of suicide and of ways to prevent it; to build the capacity of individuals to help themselves and of workplaces and communities to help people who need support; and to provide help by connecting workers to practical and useful services. These include employee assistance programs, financial counselling, drug and alcohol services, grief counselling, and family and relationship counselling.
The two key components of the MIC program are training and support. Training is used to raise awareness of the social problem of suicide within the industry, the contributing factors, and the ways in which the problem can be addressed. General awareness training is delivered on building sites to at least 80 per cent of workers. Connector training, provided to people who volunteer to be Connectors, trains them to keep someone who is in a crisis safe and connect them to professional help. ASSIST training teaches ASSIST
workers how to talk to someone who is contemplating suicide, how to help them stay safe, and address their worries and concerns, and how to help them develop a ‘safe plan’.
Support includes an assistance hotline, case management processes for connecting people to support services, and onsite support from field officers who visit construction sites. Field officers also provide support after critical incidents and accidents, or after the suicide of a worker or a worker’s family member. In these instances, they focus on helping people deal with grief and emotional reactions to trauma, and on helping Connectors and ASSIST workers to identify and support people in need of help.
A big part of MIC’s work is helping workers and the industry to change some of the factors that contribute to suicide in the industry. This includes recognising that the uncertain nature of employment in building and construction creates a lack of job and financial security that causes stress and anxiety. MIC also addresses perceptions and behaviours within the industry that make them less likely to seek help. These include reluctance to talk about feelings and emotions, perceptions that individuals who acknowledge they are having problems will be perceived as ‘not manly’, and the belief that individuals who intend to suicide don’t discuss it with others or show signs of needing help.
Changing such entrenched cultural attitudes isn’t easy, but by 2020, the MIC program had trained nearly 210,000 people and managed over 95 cases. It has also developed the Mates in Mining, Mates in Energy and Mates in New Zealand programs to provide similar support to workers in the mining and energy fields, and in New Zealand.
- What types of change is Mates in Construction trying to facilitate?
- How is MIC facilitating organisational development on building and construction sites?
- What barriers might prevent MIC from successfully fostering change? How could those barriers be overcome?
- How could mining and construction companies reduce the stresses experienced by workers in the industry?
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