A successful union and industry-backed program designed to support workers’ mental health and prevent suicide will be expanded to the manufacturing sector, providing evidence-based assistance for those in need.
MATES in Manufacturing, an initiative based on the blueprint of the lauded MATES in Construction program, will deliver suicide awareness programs, critical workplace training that focuses on peer-to-peer support, along with case management and referrals to appropriate professional services. The pilot will be rolled out across 12 workplaces over the coming year.
Tragically, more than 3,000 Australians die from suicide and more than 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt each year. It is a leading cause of death for people in the 15-44 years age bracket, of which about 75 per cent are men.
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated job losses and lockdowns, has also brought mental health issues into focus. According to recent data from Safe Work Australia, almost one-in-five coronavirus-related workers’ compensation claims were based on mental health grounds, confirming that mental health is a critical issue for workplaces.
Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, which is supporting the initiative, said every suicide death was a tragedy and workplaces, where workers often spent most of their waking hours, were well-placed to support mental health initiatives.
“Suicide impacts not just the individual involved but imparts an indelible blow on their families, friends and work colleagues. Nobody wants to lose a mate in such a way,” he said.
“MATES in Manufacturing draws on the expertise of the wider MATES organisation. It will deliver peer-based support for workers, including essential workplace training, so the industry can tackle head on the scourge of suicide that disproportionately impacts young men.”
MATES in Construction National CEO Chris Lockwood said of the pilot program: “I’m personally looking forward to getting our MATES model into the manufacturing industry. We know our model is highly effective at reducing suicide and improving mental health outcomes in our key industries and that’s why we have engaged Deakin University and The University of Western Sydney to evaluate the program rollout to confirm its effectiveness in this new industry.”
The MATES in Manufacturing program is a joint initiative of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Australian Workers’ Union, United Workers Union, Australian Industry Group, and industry leaders such as Downer Group, Opal, UGL, Stramit, BlueScope, PAX Australia, InfraBuild and Thales.
The pilot will see volunteers in manufacturing workplaces comprehensively trained onsite to keep at-risk workers safe until clinical assistance can be organised. Volunteers will be supported by qualified professionals while at-risk workers will be referred to appropriate services, including medical intervention, workplace employee assistance program or counselling.
It is a program that Mark Pearce, a boilermaker with UGL Unipart in Sydney, which is a pilot site, wishes were available 30 years ago when he lost a young colleague to suicide.
Mr Pearce said the young man had struggled with depression after being injured in a car accident and sometimes spoke about “ending it all”.
“We tried to talk to him; to tell him it was going to be alright,” Mr Pearce said. “Next thing, we find out he’s taken his own life.”
“I remember going to the funeral and then afterwards wondering whether there was anything more we could have done. Maybe if this sort of program existed at the time, it could have made a difference.”
Launched in 2008, the revolutionary MATES in Construction program has been subject to several evaluations, including a 2016 study linking it to an eight per cent reduction in the suicide rate in the Queensland construction industry. MATES in Manufacturing has secured funding from the NSW and federal governments to conduct independent evaluations of the pilot sites.
• More than 3000 Australians die from suicide a year, 75 per cent of them are men
• Suicide is a leading cause of death for those aged 15-44 years
• MATES workplace training programs have been found to reduce suicide rates