Building Awareness for Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry
By Cal Beyer; National Advocate for Worker Wellbeing in the Construction Industry
With Greg Burkhart, Safety Director, Electrical Industry
A robust construction industry is the foundation of a healthy economy. Construction and industrial tradespersons help build America. From the hands of trades workers come the necessary infrastructure and buildings where we conduct our lives in every way. The construction workforce helps build the economic prosperity and social progress we all enjoy.
Unfortunately, the construction workforce is paying a steep price for their efforts. There is mounting evidence the construction workforce is a high-risk industry for various physical and behavioral health conditions.
The construction and industrial trades have high incidences of the following representative ailments and conditions:
Physical Health Conditions
Behavioral Health Conditions
Social isolation and loneliness
Stress and anxiety
Propensity for risk-taking
There are statistics to support each listed condition. However, the purpose of sharing the issues is to create awareness and understanding that the construction workforce is considered high risk for both physical and behavioral health. More importantly, this is a call to action for construction employers, labor unions, associations, workforce development specialists, and even medical and behavioral health care professionals to take note and provide resources to help employees take care of themselves, families, coworkers and friends.
Why Are the Risks so High in the Construction Workforce?
There are many fundamental industry factors that influence the risk factors, including the ebb and flows of economic cycles, combined with end-of-project furloughs and seasonal layoffs impacting the financial wellbeing of workers. Construction is a pressure-packed industry with increasing demands to meet rising performance standards in schedule, budget, productivity, quality, and safety. This stress undermines the wellbeing of the workforce. Additionally, workers are paid on an hourly basis, so if work is canceled by weather, schedule, or sequencing delays, there is no pay. This creates access barriers to adequate medical healthcare and behavioral health services.
Are There Other Risk Factors?
There are four other interrelated risk factors that further impact the physical and mental health of construction workforce:
Workforce culture, including the stoic “tough guy and gal” work ethic where feelings are not talked about and the job must go on. Stigma about mental wellbeing runs high as is typical of male-dominated industries.
Company factors, including the nature of the work of specific trades, location of work, amount of work, schedule and sequence of work, and the amount of overtime.
Job, task and environmental stressors, including the long hours, and physically and mentally demanding working conditions in sometimes harsh environmental conditions.
Worker lifestyle choices, including whether a worker is receptive to seeking medical care and behavioral health services; individual choices made with respect to nutrition, exercise, alcohol, and substance use; and adoption of stress management and self-care practices.
The net effect of these risk factors is that construction has the second highest rate of suicide, which is over three times higher than the rate for the general population in the United States. Because of the size of its workforce, construction has the highest number of suicides among all occupations. The reality is that more construction workers die by suicide annually than die in all occupational fatalities in safety incidents.
There is good news: suicide can be preventable, but only if we talk about and help reduce the stigma that keeps people at risk from seeking and accepting help. For starters, everyone should load these two resources into their cell phones and share this with their family, coworkers and friends:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Text Line
800/273-8255 Text HELP to 741741
Resources available for Local 8 members and their family:
SupportLinc through Local 8 Health Plan 1-888-881-5462
Cal Beyer, CWP, SCTPP is Vice President of Workforce Risk and Worker Wellbeing for CSDZ, a Holmes Murphy Company. He has been dedicated to construction risk and safety management since 1996. From 2014-2020, he was director of risk management and safety for a paving contractor in WA, OR, and ID. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the Expert Advisory Group of the Center for Workplace Mental Health. Cal was instrumental in the launch of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Contact Beyer at cbeyer@CSDZ.com or 651-307-7883.