Construction Industry Takes Aim at Suicide Prevention

Construction Suicide PreventionEvery 11 minutes someone in the U.S. dies by suicide. Too many of those who do, work in the construction industry.  In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studied the correlation between suicide and occupation for the first time and found that workers in construction and extraction had the highest suicide rates of any occupation. The rate among construction is more than three times the national average, at 49.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 workers.  That works out to an estimate 5,242 construction industry suicides annually, which is more than five times the number of construction industry work fatalities. Consider also that for every person that dies by suicide there are another 25 suicide attempts.

The topic first came to the attention of a task force within the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) in 2016. The group has since grown to become the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP), garnering support from contractors, unions, associations, and mental health organizations across the country.

According to CIASP chairman Michelle Walker it’s likely that suicides in construction aren’t just a recent phenomenon. “The risk factors for construction workers aren’t new,” said Walker, who also serves as VP of finance and administration at SSC Underground in Phoenix. The demographics of the industry (96.6% men and more than 660,000 veterans) play a role. Men are twice as likely to take their own lives as women. Male veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. “A stoic, independent, tough-guy mentality, may keep workers from seeking help,” says Walker. “Others may not offer help because they don’t feel comfortable intervening.” Other risk factors include chronic pain that can result from physically demanding jobs, along with alcohol and substance abuse. Shift work that can result in sleep disruption as well as time away from home, may also contribute. Stress from layoffs may also play a role. 

Construction Worker Counseling and Resources

CIASP is working to gain awareness for a topic that has long been stigmatized in society. “We want construction leadership to get informed on the issue and make it known that their workplace is a safe place to ask for help, or to ask for help for others,” says Walker.

CIASP has partnered with Lendlease, an international property and infrastructure group and member of the CIASP board, to provide access to LivingWorks Start, an online suicide prevention training program. The 60-minute session provides key tools for participants to recognize when someone is thinking about suicide and how to connect them to the help and support they may need. It can be accessed from any computer or mobile device and is free for industry stakeholders. “It’s a quick, powerful program that teaches people what to look out for and how to connect someone to help,” says Randy Thompson, vice president, business development for LivingWorks.

The good news is that programs designed to educate the workforce are effective at preventing suicide. According to Thompson, prior to training, 35 percent of participants report feeling confident in their ability to support someone at risk of suicide. After the training, 85 percent feel confident.  A recent study of a LivingWorks program designed for a military base showed an 80 percent reduction in the suicide rate after one year. A 2016 study published in Lancet Psychiatry shows a $1 investment in mental health brings a $4 return on investment through improvements in the ability to work and productivity.

construction worker serious conversationBuilding a Network of Safety

“Our concept is based around building a network of safety,” said Thompson. “If you are trained in suicide prevention, if family members are trained and the workplace has people trained, suicide is more likely to be prevented.”

Other LivingWorks programs such as SafeTalk, provide additional face-to-face training. SafeTalk is a four-hour face-to-face workshop. The ASIST workshop, is a two-day program that includes instruction on skilled intervention and developing a safety plan.

To date, more than 100 stakeholders have taken the pledge at http://www.preventconstructionsuicide.com. Some of the largest organizations in the industry are supporting the effort including the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders  and The Associated General Contractors of America.

“At SSC we’ve made suicide part of the conversation,” explained Walker. “We talk it about it every crew and company meeting so that people get more comfortable with the topic.” Six related ToolBox Talks are available for download on the CIASP website. Walker has also compiled a list of mental health resources for employees.

While most people don’t kill themselves at work, it doesn’t mean the industry isn’t suffering a huge related financial cost as a result. According to Thompson, it’s estimated that companies suffer more than $1 million per worker lost to suicide. A third of workers compensation claims in men and nearly two-thirds in women had an existing mental health condition.

Suicides in working age adults across all industries are up 40 percent over the past two decades. But armed with new awareness and training tools, the construction industry has a tremendous opportunity to build a network that can save the lives of thousands of friends, family and co-workers. Take the pledge at www.preventconstructionsuicide.com.

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