According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), construction has the highest suicide rate (53.2/100,000) across all industries. The suicide rate in construction is about four times greater than the national average (17.3/100,000) and five times greater than that of all other construction fatalities combined (10.1/100,000).
In fact, more lives are lost per day from suicide than from all of OSHA’s Fatal Four Hazards combined. Let that sink in. More people in construction are lost each day from something that has nothing to do with the extreme hazards and dangers of the nature of our work. We don our PPE, do our pre-task analysis, and eliminate safety hazards whenever we can, but the biggest danger to the lives of our crew are often invisible to everyone but the person at risk. This needs to change. And it needs to change now.
Bringing awareness to these staggering numbers and why the construction industry is more predisposed to suicide is the first step towards creating a caring culture that is focused on prevention and how to help.
So why do more people in this industry commit suicide? It begins with understanding the workforce. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men. And, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 97% of the U.S. construction workforce is male and 56.9% is Caucasian. Also, more than 63% of construction workers are between the ages of 35 and 64.
Additionally, there is another group that has an increased risk: Veterans. With their mission-oriented mindsets, many Veterans often choose construction as a career. On average, 16.8 Veterans die by suicide each day, making the suicide rate for Veterans 1.5 times greater than non-Veteran adults.
The nature of construction work and work culture contribute further to risk factors. The following situations, characteristics and conditions can all put someone at a higher risk for suicide:
- Stoic, “old school,” and “tough guy” culture
- Fearlessness and “thrill-seeking” personalities
- Promotion of supervision without leadership training
- Family separation and isolation with travel
- Sleep disruption/deprivation due to shift work
- Seasonal layoffs and end-of-project furloughs
- Tolerant culture of alcohol and substance use
- Chronic pain
- Industry with highest use of prescription opioids
- Performance pressure (schedule, budget, and quality)
- Access to lethal means
If suicide prevention hasn’t been at the top of mind for our teams, it should be. One step we can take is to be more aware of warning signs to watch for from those at your job site and taking steps to ensure we embrace and encourage a culture of caring.
In addition to making culture shifts to support prevention, it’s also important to be able to recognize warning signs that someone you work with might be at risk.
Be on the lookout for these warning signs:
- Previous suicide attempts
- History of depression or other mental illness
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Family history of suicide or violence
- Physical illness
- Feeling alone
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself. Communication may be veiled: “I just can’t take it anymore,” or “What’s the use?”
- Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
Concerned About a Co-worker?
To help those in crisis and considering suicide, you can use LEARN® created by the University of Washington Forefront Suicide Prevention Center of Excellence. Click here to find out more. Most suicides are preventable. Together, we can save lives.
What If You Need Help?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or even suicidal, you are not alone. For urgent assistance, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right away. These confidential resources are available any hour of every day.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) | 24/7 free & confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
Crisis Text Line | 24/7 free crisis intervention — text HELLO to 741741