If you’re working on a rooftop or skyscraper scaffold, you are tethered. If you’re on the ground, you wear a hardhat. What protection is available when you suffer from depression on the job? Construction workers are more likely to die by suicide than a jobsite fall.
Everybody knew, but nobody would talk about it.
–Michelle Walker, on growing up in a construction industry-town
Construction Workers and Suicide
The industry with the highest suicide rate is Mining, Quarrying/Oil and Gas Extraction. Construction ranks second. Construction remains male-dominated despite our efforts to diversify hiring, so the suicide rates are:
- Females 9.4/100,000 workers
- Males 45.3/100,000 workers
It’s not that we don’t want to deal with mental health issues; it’s more of a lack of awareness among managers, supervisors, and construction workers themselves. Because most companies are safety-conscious and actively promote safety awareness, it helps to classify mental health as a safety risk.
“When you look at it from risk management, you can create the business case…it can benefit the business and everybody in the business by paying attention to it,” said Michelle Walker of SSC Underground, an Arizona boring and excavation company.
Her company holds a training session on how to facilitate mental health conversations. It includes how to recognize suicide warning signs; information that is valuable at work and home.
The construction industry is adapting its culture to appeal to a new generation of workers. New-age employees seek human-centric workplaces. They want to work in a “culture of caring.”
What Can YOU Do?
We need to prioritize mental health wellness. You don’t have to be a CEO to initiate a committee to develop mental health awareness in the construction industry.
Post mental health resources on the jobsite. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. (Almost) everyone has a cellphone. If you can communicate by messaging, send the best mental health apps for 2021 to construction workers.
Other ways to promote mental health awareness and suicide prevention include:
- Hard hat stickers
- Moments of silence to acknowledge construction workers that died by suicide
- Quarterly toolbox talks
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