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Building a better building industry with suicide prevention training


Mar 6, 2020

Things that are scary in the Australian construction industry include a worker dying, on average, every second day by suicide, and the fact that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work.

What’s one thing that is scary about LivingWorks training? “It is scary how simple it is. Anybody can do it.” This from Damien McVeigh. He works at Mates in Construction and is a trainer for both LivingWorks safeTALK and LivingWorks ASIST.

Mates in Construction is an Australian program formed to raise awareness to the unique challenges construction industry workers face and educate about mental health, well-being, and suicide awareness and prevention. Damien is a double threat as a suicide prevention educator and trainer as he has a construction background.

“I grew up in the construction industry, my whole life. All I ever knew was construction—working in construction. Unfortunately I lost three men to suicide who worked directly with me. And I was the manager. I kind of lost a lot of passion for the construction industry,” he said.

When he saw a job for Mates in Construction advertised, he saw a different role he could play in the industry. “I was familiar with the work that they had done in suicide prevention and I knew that they went into the workplaces providing training to the construction industry to make it a suicide-safer industry and I thought, this is a perfect opportunity, this is exactly what I’m looking for—now I had an opportunity to give something back to the construction industry.”

When asked why he thinks the industry sees such high suicide rates, he thinks back to when he was growing up in Ireland, “My father was a builder. He worked really hard for six months, 12 months, 18 months…you finish that project and then there are no other projects going on, so where does the next project come from? Where’s the money coming from? Pay the bills, pay the mortgage, whatever it is. Also, you start really early in the morning, you’re getting up when it’s dark, and they are long working days, you’re leaving work when it’s dark as well so you’re missing a lot of family time as well and there is a culture of heavy alcohol use and drug use as well in this industry, and there’s a culture of you’re not allowed to ask for help.”

When Damien steps into a training, he is open and honest, “I tell people at the very start of the session that I wish I knew of this training session a few years ago when I lost those people to suicide—it could have been a different story.”

He quickly saw results after he started training others in the industry as he recalls a story about a CEO of a national construction company he trained in late 2018, “I rang her just to see how she’s going and she said she had to do three interventions since December. And after the training it gave her the confidence, gave her the skills, and she was able to do it. She picked up that somebody was struggling, she explored the invitations, asked questions, kept the person safe. Those three people that she intervened with got the necessary support and they’re still alive. So we hear that fairly regularly.”

Damien on the far left in a photograph after a LivingWorks ASIST session facilitated on a major BHP project in Western Australia where they are currently rolling out the Mates in Construction programme to thousands of construction workers.

Mates in Construction started in 2008, has spread across Australia, and has done some training in the UK with growing interest in New Zealand. “And the other industries are slowly starting to look at us as well. It’s a topic that usually people aren’t comfortable talking about. But that stigma that usually comes along with it is slowly changing,” says Damien. Mates in Mining is one organization that got its start from Mates in Construction and Damien can’t stress enough that anyone can learn to save a life, “I’ve got no formal qualifications to my name. I don’t have any diplomas, nothing like that. I only have a plant machinery ticket and I can do it—anybody can do it. LivingWorks suicideTALK takes an hour. That’s not long. Your LivingWorks safeTALK takes a few hours and your LivingWorks ASIST is two days. For two days you could save somebody’s life. It’s just scary how short a time—it’s just scary how simple it is.”

Click here for more information on Mates in Construction and here for Mates in Mining.