Partnering to Prevent Suicide in the Construction Industry – Building Hope and a Road to Recovery

Posted on by Trudi McCleery, MPH; Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP; Christina Socias-Morales, DrPH; and CDR Elizabeth Garza, MPH, CPH
Image from CPWR

September is Suicide Prevention Month. During this yearly observance, many organizations will place special emphasis on mental health and suicide prevention – including those in the construction industry where suicide rates of workers are alarmingly high.1 Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased, and it has been the 10th leading cause of death since 2008.2 Additionally, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) MMWR found during late June 2020, forty percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use and that 11% of U.S. adults seriously considered suicide.3 Suicide is an increasingly serious public health problem caused by many different problems and exacerbated by risk factors rising from the global COVID-19 pandemic. As people experience problems with unemployment, jobs or finances; housing; health; relationships; mental health; increased substance use; or the loss of a loved one the risk for suicide could increase.

The Construction Industry and Suicide Prevention

The construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates compared to other industries.1 In 2016, the suicide rate for men in construction and extraction occupations was 49.4/100,000 – that is almost twice the total suicide rate for civilian working men (16-64 years old) in 32 states1 (27.4/100,000) and 5 times greater than the rate for all fatal work-related injuries in the construction industry in 2018 (9.5/100,000).4

More research is needed to understand why people in the construction industry die from suicide at a higher rate compared to other industries. Work can define a person’s identity and psychological risk factors for suicide, such as depression and stress, can be affected by the workplace.5 Job strain and long work hours may be important occupational risk factors for suicidal thoughts in working populations.6 Creating and maintaining healthy work organizations is an important strategy for preventing worker suicides. Increasing worker job control and ensuring an optimal level of work demands, including 40 hours or less of work per week, may also be an important strategy for the prevention of suicide in working populations.6 Maintaining work hours of 40 or less in the construction industry can be challenging due to financial incentives to work overtime and labor shortages in certain skilled trades.

Several construction organizations are leading the industry by example and are partnering to share information about suicide prevention. Construction contractors, unions, associations, industry service providers, academic institutions, insurance agencies, and other groups have organized resources to support the industry and provide direct help to construction workers who need it. Federal, state and local government entities have also developed and targeted effective strategies to help. Below are just a few examples of current initiatives.

Suicide Prevention Resources for the Construction Industry

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) National Construction Center: CPWR — The Center for Construction Research and Training supports North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), as well as the entire industry, in addressing the suicide crises that is disproportionally affecting construction workers. CPWR created a website with several new printable resources (such as a hazard alert) to help organizations and individuals understand the issue of suicide, start a conversation, and play a role in supporting friends, co-workers and family members.

The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) is raising awareness about the risk of suicide within the construction industry by providing suicide prevention resources and tools to work towards a zero-suicide industry. They’ve created online training in collaboration with LivingWorks. To register and start the training visit https://preventconstructionsuicide.com/.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recognized the need to help construction workers who may be suicidal and created a website to assist in finding help, as well as, sharing relevant resources. OSHA links to Construction Working Minds which was established to increase construction industry awareness, provide valuable resources and create a network.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is the Nation’s Public-Private Partnership for Suicide Prevention. They provide resources to employers on how to develop a comprehensive workplace suicide prevention program as well as 10 action steps for addressing the aftermath of suicide. They have developed specific guidance for the construction industry.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides many resources for workplaces for the prevention of suicide including construction, sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. Their website states that the best way to prevent suicide is to use a comprehensive approach that includes these key components:

  • Create a work environment that fosters communication, a sense of belonging and connectedness, and respect;
  • Identify and assist employees who may be at risk for suicide; and

CDC provides strategies based on the best available evidence to help states and communities prevent suicide. The CDC Technical Package linked from this website has a strategy called, “Creating Protective Environments” which talks about:

  • Increasing access to health and behavioral health care services
  • Reducing access to lethal means among persons at risk of suicide
  • Changing organizational polices and culture to promote a protective environment for workers, such as:
    • Promoting prosocial behavior among employees (e.g., asking for help)
    • Assessing and referring employees to helping services (e.g., mental health, substance abuse treatment, financial counseling)
    • Developing crisis response plans for post-suicide events

CDC has also developed a website on coping with job stress and building resilience and a page on dealing with stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. For World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept 10th, 2020, CDC is partnering with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention to educate the public about the many ways they can take action to support a person who is struggling or in crisis. #BeThere and #BeThe1To help a friend, loved one, or coworker.

Additionally, NIOSH has a website on Suicide and Occupation which lists resources and includes ways to reduce and prevent suicide in the workplace.

There are important steps that workers and employers should take to recognize the warning signs and help prevent suicides. The goal of suicide prevention is to reduce factors that increase risk and enhance factors that promote resilience. Organizations can come together to create safer and healthier workplaces. How is your organization working to prevent suicide? We’d love to hear from you.

Need Help? Know Someone Who Does?

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

•  Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

•  Use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat

Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a counselor in your area. For more information, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

 

Trudi McCleery, MPH, is a Health Communications Specialist in the NIOSH Division of Science Integration, Science Applications Branch.

Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP, is the Associate Director for Construction Safety and Health.

Christina Socias-Morales, DrPH, is a Research Epidemiologist in the NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health.

CDR Elizabeth Garza, MPH, CPH, is Assistant Coordinator for the Construction Sector in the NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health.

 

References

  1. Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_2018_1100w850h.jpg AND Fatal Injury Data, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html. Accessed August 21, 2020.
  3. Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1.
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Number and rate of fatal work injuries, by industry sector, 2018. https://www.bls.gov/charts/census-of-fatal-occupational-injuries/number-and-rate-of-fatal-work-injuries-by-industry.htm
  5. Tiesman, H; Konda, S., Hartley D., Chaumont-Menendez, C; Ridenour, M; Hendricks, S. [2014]. Suicide in U.S. Workplaces: 2003-2010: A Comparison with Non-Workplace Suicides. American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
  6. Choi, B. Job strain, long work hours, and suicidal ideation in US workers: a longitudinal study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 91, 865–875 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-018-1330-7.
Posted on by Trudi McCleery, MPH; Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP; Christina Socias-Morales, DrPH; and CDR Elizabeth Garza, MPH, CPH

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Page last reviewed: September 9, 2020
Page last updated: September 9, 2020