Pictured left to right: Andy Cowan (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), Ben Morunga-Toi, Richie Hepi and Karon Vea (MATES in Construction) and Mark Cartwright (Workforce Central Dunedin)


He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

The new Dunedin Hospital is New Zealand’s largest ever health infrastructure project.  Over the course of the hospital build thousands of construction workers will be employed, with up to 1,000 workers on site during the peak activity period.  Workforce Central Dunedin (WFCD) is integral to the project and is providing the skills and labour needed to complete the build.

WFCD facilitates support, access and training for the project’s construction workers and we were recently invited to meet the team from MATES in Construction and sit in on a typical induction course.

The brutal fact is the construction industry has the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in New Zealand. Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work.

MATES engage with workers through on-site training and providing those identified as at risk with case management support that connects them to suitable professional support. MATES Field Officers are trained in suicide intervention skills and have experience with the Building and Construction Industry. This allows them to engage easily with workers on site and we met three of those impressive Field Officers.

Richie Hepi is a survivor of suicide.  His voice is a powerful one for the inevitable guy at the back of the room, shades on, head down who’s been invited along.  It’s the voice that motivates the guy to take his glasses off, sit forward, and by the end of the session, quietly reach out to say he needs help and say ‘thank you my brother, I thought I was on my own’.  In the words of Richie, “that’s the day we save a life.”

“I often reflect that this job chose me.  I realised this was what I should be doing – help others, make it OK to not be OK.  If I hide what I went through, I rip off these guys.  Collectively we can influence our people and do something.  That’s why I do what I do,” says Richie.

Ben Morunga-Toi agrees.  “We can all collectively influence and do something to stop suicide in our industry,” he says.  In just under an hour we certainly understood the scale of the problem and most importantly, the signs to look out for and how we can help any of our workmates.

And the newest member of the team, Karon Vea, might be just five weeks into her new role at MATES but has spent her life helping vulnerable people find their path forward. Her new role is a natural fit - she’s respectful, warm and within minutes has people realising that having a conversation about mental health is something we can all do.

Tēnā koutou Richie, Ben and Karon and the rest of the team at MATES in Construction, for the valuable work you are doing to save lives.

In an emergency dial 111 if you think you, a mate or someone else is at risk of harm.  Free phone or text 1737 to communicate immediately with a counsellor or call the MATES in Construction 24/7 Helpline 0800 111 315.

Workforce Central Dunedin is proudly supported through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Provincial Development Unit’s Te Ara Mahi stream. Construction workers interested in attended a course in the Dunedin region can contact




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