Suicide Prevention in the Construction Trades


Date: September 8, 2020

Doug Sams, Risk Control Consultant

Suicide is real, and it’s personal

December 7, 1985. I was in the Army, stationed at Redstone Arsenal. The last guest had left our apartment after having watched the annual Army – Navy football game.

The phone rang, and I learned that my dad had committed suicide. He was an industrial painter. Six years later, my uncle, a boilermaker, did the same. In the years since, I’ve known three co-workers who took their own lives – a carpenter, a cement finisher and an ironworker.

My experiences with suicide are not unique. When you take a look at the numbers, they’re shocking:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 2000-2016 the suicide rate among the working-age population (16-64) increased by 34 percent.
  • The group Suicide Awareness Voices of Education says, roughly 123 people commit suicide every day. That is one every 12 minutes.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
  • According to the CDC, the construction industry has the highest suicide rate of any industry in the US at 53.2 per 100,000 workers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers in construction is 12.2. This means that people employed in the trades are over four times more likely to die by suicide than on the job.

What’s going on? Why are suicides so high in the construction trades? Here are a few factors:

Demographics

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97 percent of the U.S. construction workforce is male, 56.9 percent are Caucasian and 63 percent are between the ages of 35 and 64.

This – coupled with the fact that nearly 70 percent of all suicides are middle-aged white males – is one of the main reasons why the construction industry is hit so hard by suicides.

Substance abuse

The construction industry has a reputation for having a culture that is tolerant of alcohol and substance abuse. This propensity to self-medicate to relieve stress can result in escalating substance abuse problems that also increase the risk of suicide.

Culture

Many times, people who are drawn into the trades tend to value the “tough guy” mentality and are willing to take more risks. Also, mental illness is often seen as a weakness, meaning employees are less likely to seek help. In addition, when humiliating mistakes occur on the job site, the event can trigger depression and suicidal thoughts.

Nature of the industry

The nature of the construction industry itself elevates risk. Seasonal work, with frequent project layoffs, is common – creating uncertainty and anxiety. Workers are often also separated from family due to travel, which removes an important support system. They also face pressures due to tight schedules and budgets.

Veteran status

The construction industry has a higher than average number of military veterans in the workforce. As a group, veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans. They also are more likely to have the knowledge and access to “lethal means.”

Prevention is critical

Workplaces all across the country set goals for zero workplace-related fatalities. Suicide should not be excluded from this goal. This requires a proactive approach to prevention and an emphasis on mental health.

There are many resources available – both from the employer and the employee standpoint.

Employer resources

Most employers may have several resources to share with their employees regarding job safety and other job-related tasks. It is essential not to overlook providing access to resources that can help employees with mental health issues they may be facing. Below are some excellent resources to help deal with these issues.

Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, (609) 799-4900

Safe Build Alliance, (503) 807-2980

Suicide Prevention Resource Center, (800) 273-TALK (8255)

Employee Resources

National Suicide Prevention Hotline,  (800) 273-8255

Suicide Prevention Resource Center, (800) 273-TALK (8255)

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