Suicide and Mental Health are Construction Safety and Health Priorities

Suicide is a serious issue, particularly around the holidays. As much as 25% of the U.S. population experience mental health issues and as many as two thirds (16%) don’t seek treatment. Employers and coworkers may be able to provide support to workers experiencing mental health issues if they understand how to recognize warning signs, and how they can provide assistance or help a coworker/friend get help.

Many companies don’t realize that when workers face problems involving mental health, they can increase the companies’ risk of accidents and losses. Management and safety professionals also need to know that workers mental health issues increase worker absenteeism, presenteeism, and loss productivity – all of which affect the economic strength of the company.

According to the Construction Management Financial Association (CFMA), from 1999 to 2014 there was a 22% increase in suicide among white middle-aged men with less than a college education; suicides, opioid overdoses, and alcohol abuse were listed as the cause of this increased mortality. In addition, they reported more construction workers commit suicide than in any other industry. In fact, more construction workers die each year from suicide than on the job accidents.

Although most construction related suicides do not happen on construction sites, I’m sure some do occur. When a fellow worker commits suicide on or off the job, many people within the company are affected. Historically, the construction industry has spent a lot of time and money to provide workers with a safe place to work, including efforts to protect workers from exposure to chemicals and other health hazards such as asbestos and silica dust. However, we often overlook or don’t recognize the psychological aspects of working in construction.

Many job factors can have a negative effect on a person’s mental health: job security, odd hours, low pay, job stress, bullying, or separation from family and friends when jobs are not local. Additionally, events outside of work, such as divorce, family illness, death of a loved one, or PTSD, can take a significant mental and emotional toll. One or more of these issues can be overwhelming, leaving a person feeling like they have no place to turn.

Recognize when a Worker is Having a Difficult Time

CFMA has identified these common warning signs as indicators of possible mental health problems:

  • appearing sad or depressed most of the time;
  • increased tardiness and absenteeism;
  • talking about feeling trapped or wanting to die;
  • decreased productivity;
  • increased conflict among co-workers;
  • extreme mood swings;
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs;
  • decreased self-confidence;
  • feeling hopeless and helpless;
  • sleeping too much or too little;
  • acting anxious, agitated, or reckless;
  • near hits, incidents, and injuries;
  • withdrawing from family and friends;
  • talking about being a burden to others,
  • decreased problem-solving ability.

Preventing Construction Worker Suicide

  • Educate management and employees about mental health problems and what they can do if they feel depressed or suicidal, or recognize that a coworker/friend may need help.
  • Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and make sure all understand that contacting the EAP is confidential.
  • Make informational about additional resources and support groups available to all employees, such as the Veterans Administration Suicide Hotline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
    Work to destigmatize mental health issues in your company’s culture.
  • Create a post-suicide crisis response plan to help employees deal with the death of a coworker.

Along with many construction associations, NUCA is an alliance member of CFMA. For more information visit the CIASP website. The OSHA (www.osha.gov/preventingsuicide) website also has a lot of links to suicide prevention resources.

Further Materials to Aid in Suicide Prevention

Beyond general mental health issues, suicide in construction is a safety and health issue. Companies should consider performing a needs analysis.

More detailed information can be found on the CFMA website https://www.cfma.org/news/content.cfm?ItemNumber=4570&navItemNumber=4639.

If you are ready to take action, download a free copy of A Construction Industry Blueprint: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace: https://www.carsonjspencer.org/programs/working-minds/construction-industry-blueprint

Under the Resources link of CFMA you will find the Analysis and Integration link which will provide your company with a needs analysis and integration checklist to help evaluated your companies mental health and suicide prevention preparedness and culture: https://s3.amazonaws.com/rdcmscfma/files/production/public/Construction%20Industy%20Alliance%20for%20Suicide%20Prevention%20Needs%20&%20Integration%20Checklist.pdf

Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) www.preventconstructionsuicide.com says that now is the time to STAND up for suicide prevention

Construction industry suicide risk factors listed by CFMA:

  • Tough guy culture
  • High pressure environment
  • Physically strenuous resulting in chronic pain
  • Prescription opioid use is high
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Separation from family and friends
  • Sleep disruption due to work schedules and varied shifts
  • Seasonal employment
  • Lack of and low utilization of EAP and other help resources
  • Stigma of mental illness

This article was written by NUCA staff.

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