Why suicide is a rising concern for construction industry

Group aims to tackle mental health concerns, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic

Why suicide is a rising concern for construction industry
“Workers in construction face many work-related stressors that may increase their risk factors for suicide.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an echo pandemic: mental health.

Numerous studies have shown that the pandemic has had a huge impact on worker mental health:

“The pandemic is a very stressful event – for individuals, for communities and for workplaces and particularly employees,” says Katharine Coons, National Workplace Mental Health Specialist, CAMH.

First and foremost, she says that they have “common worries of contracting the virus, but also fears for job security. There is a lot of uncertainty around what the future of the workplace looks like for a lot of industries.”

With a lot of people let go early on during the pandemic, there was a lot of insecurity around jobs but also concern for loved ones and family members.

COVID-19 has created a stressful environment for many workers, and exacerbated mental health issues in industries where they were already rife such as construction.

That industry in particular is one in which suicide (notably among male workers) is more and more prevalent.

Indeed, in a study published in 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assessed that, in the U.S., one of the highest suicide rates among men was workers in construction and mining jobs, totalling 43.6 deaths for every 100,000 workers in 2012. This rose to 53.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2015.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labour, in partnership with industry leaders and relevant stakeholders, issued a statement calling on employers and workers to combat the surge in construction worker suicides.

In a more recent study, the CDC reiterated that the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates compared to other industries – and though more research is needed to understand why, heightened risk of injury, long working hours and unstable contracts could play a part.

“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,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labour for OSH, Jim Frederick in the statement.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has formed a task force comprising industry partners, unions and educators to raise awareness and encourage employers to share resources with their workers.

They will also take part in the weeklong event Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down from Sep 6 – 10, which coincides with National Suicide Prevention Month in September. The Stand-Down was started as a regional initiative in OSHA’s Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, offices and has since spread nationwide. Over 5,000 people took part in the event in 2020.