That construction is a dangerous occupation is well established. We accept that this type of work is inherently dangerous and do our best to mitigate the risks that workers face. However, a less openly talked-about danger is the troubling frequency with which construction workers take their lives.
The risk isn’t just to the depressed or suicidal worker. Someone who is contemplating suicide may take unnecessary risks or may be distracted, putting other workers in danger.
[Related: A risky business—Examining suicide in construction]
In our cover story this issue, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, a clinical psychologist and speaker on suicide prevention, explains the scope of the problem and what is being done to address it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics only counts suicides that occur on the job site: 17 for the entire industry in 2016. That number is nothing compared to the wider picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2012, the construction and extraction industries had the highest number of suicide deaths at over 1,320. Construction and extraction had the second highest rate of suicide, at 53.3 suicide deaths for every 100,000 workers.
Suicide in Colorado has been increasing since 2009, according to the annual report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Office of Suicide Prevention (OSP).
The department recognizes that construction is a high-risk industry and is taking steps to bring the number of suicide deaths down to zero. In addition to funding prevention campaigns and education efforts statewide, the report noted that the Training and Development Workgroup is exploring “efforts to support the construction industry with suicide prevention resources, including assisting with mental health summits for the construction industry.”
OSP partnered with Man Therapy, a suicide prevention and awareness campaign that targets men, the demographic at the highest risk for suicide. OSP provided resources for ManTherapy.org that target high-risk occupations like construction, first responders and servicemembers.
[Related: Mobile mental health]
“Construction, as an industry, is setting the path forward for other industries because of the speed that it’s moving, because it’s pragmatic and there’s a lot of leadership involved,” Spencer-Thomas said. “I am so grateful to the construction industry for carrying the flag forward. Every time I get in front of an audience, I get teary because I know every single one of them has a story to tell me about their own struggle or about someone they cared about.”
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.