The construction industry employs workers in some of the most physically intensive jobs in the United States; however, the toll that the industry takes on workers is not just physical. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that men working in the construction industry have one of the highest suicide rates compared to other occupations. The suicide rate among construction workers was about four times higher than the general population. Construction workers are suffering, and there is a need for companies to address the mental health needs of the workers. Creating a workspace that makes workers feel safe and supported can contribute to a lower chance of suicide. If you or a loved one suffers suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
According to experts, the high-pressure work environment of a construction site can lead to drug abuse among workers and even suicide. Stress from long hours of dangerous and strenuous work can lead to employees suffering from mental health issues that cannot be ignored. Construction workers are susceptible to many risk factors associated with higher suicide rates. 90% of the U.S. construction workforce are male, and 38% are between 35 and 64, the group with the highest chance of suicide.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has formed a task force comprised of industry partners, unions, and educators designed to educate employees and employers on the issue of suicide in the construction industry. In addition, the team is conducting and encouraging others to lead a seven-day suicide prevention stand-down from September 6-10. This stand-down aims to bring awareness to the problem of suicide in the construction industry by discussing the issues with workers face-to-face. The subject of mental health and suicide have generally been considered taboo topics within society, yet the effects have had a lasting impact on families, communities, and workplaces. Employers must start hosting honest discussions about mental illness and suicide where workers can seek assistance if required. Educating supervisors and workers about the topic and identifying signs of mental illness can help create a more supportive environment. Having the right resources to improve mental health and prevent suicide is essential for a healthy work environment.
In addition to the emotional turmoil brought about by suicide, a significant financial impact is also incurred. Employers who have workers who die by suicide incur a financial obligation to cover production disturbance costs, human capital costs, medical expenses, administrative expenses, and other expenses. The Center for Mental Health states that we lose 91 million hours yearly due to mental health problems. The burden of these costs is primarily on the shoulders of employers. The World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrates the gravity of the issue by stating that for each team member who dies from suicide, 10-20 attempt to. What does that mean for employers? That means covering recovery costs for employees who attempt suicide.
What can be done to help a worker suffering from suicidal thoughts? Construction workers need to be informed that suicide is never the answer. If a worker is suffering from suicidal thoughts, they should:
- Speak to someone they trust
- Speak to a doctor
- Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- Join an online suicide support group
Suicide is a significant issue currently affecting the construction industry that needs to be addressed. Employers need to empower workers to speak openly about their mental health and suicidal thoughts to prevent workers from taking their own lives. The construction industry is a perfect storm of stress that can cause workers to suffer from mental illness. Workers and supervisors must be informed of these issues and feel they can seek help if they are suffering from them. If you or a loved one suffers from suicidal thoughts or actions, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.