While the hazards most often associated with workplace deaths in the U.S. construction industry – falling, being struck-by or crushed by equipment or other objects, or suffering electrocution are well-known – a recent study finds that another potential killer is taking lives at an alarming rate.
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that men working in construction have one of the highest suicide rates compared to other industries. Their rate of suicide is about four times higher than the general population.
While the CDC continues its research to understand the disparity, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has formed a task force of industry partners, unions and educators to raise awareness of the types of stress that can push construction workers into depression and toward suicide. In addition to alerting stakeholders, the task force encourages industry employers to share and discuss available resources with their workers. The task force is calling on the industry to take part in a weeklong Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down, Sept. 6-10, to raise awareness about the unique challenges construction workers face. The stand-down will coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month in September.
“Work-related stress can have severe impacts on mental health and without proper support may lead to substance abuse and even suicide,” stated Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “Workers in construction face many work-related stressors that may increase their risk factors for suicide, such as the uncertainty of seasonal work, demanding schedules and workplace injuries that are sometimes treated with opioids.”
The Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down started as a regional initiative in OSHA’s Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., offices with these task force members: Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of Missouri, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, Washington University, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, local unions and several employers. More than 5,000 people participated in the 2020 Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down, and OSHA encourages others to join the effort in 2021.
“Like many workplace fatalities, suicides can be prevented,” said OSHA Acting Regional Administrator Billie Kizer in Kansas City, Missouri. “We encourage employers to use all available resources, familiarize themselves with the problem and learn to recognize the warning signs of depression. We also urge workers to seek help if they feel overwhelmed or overcome by a loss of hope.”
View a video on suicide prevention that Acting Assistant Secretary Frederick recently shared with task force members. The suicide prevention page also includes links to resources and other information for toolbox talks. Review these OSHA mental health and crisis resources.
Additional information on suicide prevention in the construction industry includes the following:
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s National Construction Center: CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training.
- A fact sheet for organization and individuals on the issue of suicide and prevention.
- How to talk about suicide with employees and how to get help.
- The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention.