Suicide Prevention In The Construction Industry
September is Suicide Prevention Month and the construction industry is one of the highest ranking in the number of suicides. Why? What can be done to prevent suicides? How can the mental health of employees be made a priority? Do construction companies have a role to play? Keep reading to learn more along with a number of valuable resources.
Reasons For The High Numbers
We all know construction is physically hard on the body, and that extreme heat and cold are considered part of the job. Yet the mental toll on employees from this rough work is often ignored. Consider the difference between enjoying a hot day spent with friends outdoors, or performing heavy labor under the sun for days. You may have shoveled snow off the driveway one morning, but have you worked outdoors during the winter while shivering constantly? The latter cases cause build-up stress, yet construction workers generally must endure these conditions.
Related to this is the rough treatment of employees on the job and the industry-wide culture of forced toughness. Can you think of any other field where an angry foreman might yell at workers? Even the military keeps that treatment limited to boot camp instructors. Like any occupation largely considered to be all male, the culture has become one where employees are told to be silent about their problems and keep personal worries to themselves. We are clearly discovering how unhealthy this is.
Finally, consider the stress caused by simply being away from family and knowing other people get to go home at the end of their day. Construction workers often travel widely for work and go to a nearby hotel to sleep, not their home. Does higher pay make up for the difference this causes? No, but being able to take breaks and visit family more often would. Many construction companies try to combat this by encouraging employees to view each other as family and spend time together, which helps to a degree.
What Can Be Done?
Unfortunately, some of the factors and circumstances behind suicides can't change for those working in the construction industry. So instead colleagues and employers must be there for someone who needs help with their mental health. We all have a responsibility to help construction employees because they are everything to construction.
This starts with an open door policy for supervisors and HR to create stronger trust in the company. The ways that employees are treated, the culture of being told to “Man Up” and a lack of suicide prevention classes and resources need to change. Regular training in September can teach employees what to do when they become overwhelmed or how to spot the warning signs in coworkers.
The US Department of Labor and OSHA have “5 Things You Should Know” about suicide prevention:
Everyone can help prevent suicide with awareness – If you sense something is wrong with a co-worker, notify your supervisor and HR immediately. This is the first step toward making a difference.
Know the warning signs of suicide – These include changes in behavior or what they say. Taking such signs seriously could save a life.
Reach out and ask “Are you okay?” – Talk privately and simply listen to what they say until they are done, then encourage them to reach out to all available resources.
If someone is in crisis, stay with them and take action – For someone at immediate risk of suicide, stay with them and contact emergency services or the 988 lifeline.
Learn more about the available suicide prevention resources – These include calling or texting the 988 lifeline, or a number of websites for learning how you can help.
Links and Further Resources
OSHA has made September 5 through 9 in 2022 “Construction Suicide Prevention Week” with more information on their page Preventing Suicides in Construction. They suggest the new 988 Lifeline, even for those who only know someone at risk. Either dial 988, or chat online at 988lifeline.org/chat where you can find help, coping strategies, confidential support, and more, 24/7 for anyone in the US. You can also text “hello” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
The OSHA page has links to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with resources on risk factors and warning signs, the Suicide Prevention Page at the CDC with facts and strategies for dealing with stress, and the American Society of Safety Professionals page on breaking the stigma and silence around suicide in the construction industry, and many more.
The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention page preventconstructionsuicide.com is promoting the hashtag #SeptemberStandUp because associations, contractors, industry providers, project owners, and unions must work together and Stand Up for suicide prevention. They offer free online suicide prevention training with LivingWorks, a suicide prevention toolkit, and resources for employers who had an employee attempt or died by suicide. Established in 2016 by the Construction Financial Management Association, CIASP has been raising awareness about suicide prevention and providing resources to create a zero-suicide industry.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty with stress and considering self-harm, there are people you can talk to. Please reach out to them and ask for help.