Suicide: A Lesser Known Health And Safety Hazard In The Construction Industry

Men working in the construction industry have a suicide rate four times higher than the general U.S. population, recent research by the CDC found. The suicide rate is also five times greater than the rate for all fatal work injuries in the construction industry. After discovering these alarming statistics, the CDC plans to conduct further research to understand the underlying reasons behind them, while OSHA has already launched a suicide awareness initiative.

Why the high suicide rate?

Although the reasons for the higher suicide rate in male construction workers isn’t yet clear, depression and stress are likely factors. “Work-related stress can have severe impacts on mental health and without proper support may lead to substance abuse and even suicide,” said Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “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.” Additionally, long work hours and job strain can also contribute to suicidal thoughts. It’s therefore essential that construction organizations establish and maintain healthy workplace cultures. For example, keeping work demands manageable is a key way to prevent worker suicide. In the construction industry, 40-hour work weeks or less is optimal for workers, although challenging to achieve as staff shortages in specialized areas and bonuses for working overtime often result in employees working longer hours.

Risks and injury in the construction industry

The construction industry has always been filled with risks with the more obvious hazards involving workplace health and safety violations, inadequate training and equipment, and equipment malfunctions. Fortunately, when a construction worker injures himself at work, a building accident lawyer can help protect their legal rights. With an experienced lawyer, an injured worker can successfully win compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Moreover, despite the risks posed by the sector, total nonfatal construction workplace injuries have in fact fallen in recent years and decreased by 13% in 2020 from the year prior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Suicide awareness and prevention

In an effort to raise awareness of industry-specific stressors that damage mental health and potentially lead construction workers to suicide, OSHA has put together a new task force. Consisting of advocates, unions, and industry partners, this task force is helping construction organizations make mental health resources readily available to their employees. Additionally, the industry participated in a weeklong Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down last September (which is also National Suicide Prevention Month). The Stand-Down was designed to increase understanding of the challenges experienced by construction workers. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Builders Association, and the Associated General Contractors of Missouri were just some of the task force members present at the Stand-Down.

Urgent action needs to be taken to prevent suicide in male construction workers. With support from OSHA’s new task force, it’s hoped great strides can be made to avoid preventable tragedy.

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