Organization offers suicide prevention support to construction employers

'We want to our members to know it's important to look for signs in your workers'

Organization offers suicide prevention support to construction employers

Construction Safety Nova Scotia is helping employers address the issue of suicide in the industry.

“Mental health and psychological safety is just as important as physical safety on the job site,” said MJ MacDonald, CEO of Construction Safety Nova Scotia. “We want to shine a light on Suicide Prevention Month and make sure our members know it’s important to look for signs in your workers. But you’re not in this alone – there’s many resources available for how you can support them if they are at risk,” said MacDonald.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. The Nova Scotia organization has several resources available on its website to support construction sector employers in discussing the difficult topic of suicide in the workplace. These include:

  • 4 toolbox talks on warning signs, how to talk about suicide, the risk of suicide in construction and making mental health a priority;
  • suicide prevention posters;
  • needs analysis and implementation tools.

While 54 per cent say they have access to an employee benefits plan, just 36 per cent report having access to a plan that includes coverage for mental health supports, according to a previous report commissioned by the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW).

Recently, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) announced they are partnering to educate workers and employers on suicide prevention.

Construction workers have a 65 percent higher suicide rate than workers in all other sectors, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The American construction industry has a suicide rate of 53.3 per 100,000 workers aged 16 to 64, just behind mining and oil and gas extraction, according to a ConstructConnect report, citing data from CDC.The rate of taking one’s own life is 49.4 per 100,000 among men and 25.5 per 100,000 among women.

The rate for men increased from 43.6 deaths for every 100,000 workers in 2012, but has dropped from 53.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2015.

Another problem in construction is opioid toxicity. In Canada, Ontario construction workers accounted for a huge share of opioid toxicity deaths in the province, according to a recent report. Specifically, a total of 428 opioid toxicity deaths among individuals who had a history of employment in the construction industry from July 2017 to the end of 2020 in Ontario.

In the first 10 months of the pandemic, 30 per cent of employed Ontarians who died from overdose worked in construction — the highest proportion of any industry, according to a Toronto Star report.

“There’s much to be done to get workers comfortable speaking up about mental health, but take a slow and steady approach: Discuss it during toolbox talks, show some mental health videos, and don’t be afraid to mention your own mental state if you’re having a difficult day yourself,” said MacDonald.