Industry stakeholders call on employers, workers to combat surge in construction suicides

By Jenny LescohierSeptember 07, 2022

Construction workers often face some of their industry’s most serious dangers – such as falls from elevation, being struck or crushed by equipment or other objects, and electrocution – but recent studies suggest another occupational concern is lurking silently at U.S.  job sites: worker suicides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the suicide rate for men in construction and extraction was five times greater than the rate of all other work-related fatalities in the industry in 2018, and these workers are four times more likely to end their own lives than people in the general population.

To assist workers in an industry with one of the nation’s highest occupational suicide rates, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has joined a task force of construction industry partners, unions and educators to raise awareness of the work stresses seen as the causes of depression and the thoughts and acts of suicide among construction workers. In addition to alerting other stakeholders, the task force encourages industry employers to share and discuss available resources with their workers.

Coinciding with Construction Suicide Prevention Week, the task force is calling on construction industry employers, trade groups and other stakeholders to join OSHA’s Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down, Sept. 5-9, 2022. This week-long event seeks to raise awareness of unique mental health challenges construction workers face by asking employers to pause work for a moment to share information and resources and urge employees to seek help if needed.

“Construction workers cope with unique causes of stress, such as uncertain seasonal work; remote work and job travel that keeps workers away from home and support systems; long, hard days and completion schedules; and the job-related risks of serious injuries,” explained Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Left unchecked, these stressors can affect mental health severely and lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and – in some cases – suicide.”

The coronavirus outbreak and pandemic only worsened the problem, researchers found. In August 2020, the CDC reported a considerable one-year increase in symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder in a survey of the U.S. population.

Moved by their concern for a growing problem, a group of industry volunteers joined in 2020 to launch the first Suicide Prevention Week for construction workers. In 2021, more than 68,000 workers in 43 states registered to participate in Construction Suicide Prevention Week, managed by a task force comprised of OSHA, Associated General Contractors, The Builders Association, leading construction companies and labor unions.

“Suicide can be prevented with professional help and assistance,” Parker added. “OSHA encourages employers, industry associations, labor organizations and workers to use all available resources to understand the problem and the warning signs of depression before tragedy strikes.”

Michelle Walker, who helped start the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention in 2015, said in an interview with CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 last year that although asking for help or reaching out to a coworker might not fit with the “macho” stoic nature of the average construction worker, they’re needed actions to combat suicide in the industry.

“Mental health is much more discussed as more people struggle with anxiety and depression due to the pandemic,” Walker said. “As it’s talked about more openly, we’re starting to see the light bulb go on for people who begin thinking about someone they work with and what might be going on with them. If they can make a personal connection to the issue, they start to see a need for this awareness and the adoption of suicide prevention practices.”

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a federally funded project designed to improve crisis services and advance suicide prevention for U.S. residents. Supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the 998 lifeline is a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers, combining custom local care and resources with national standards and best practices.

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