Mental Health Matters: Suicide Prevention Week in Construction 2022
When we think about health and safety in the construction industry, often, the first things that come to mind are safe work procedures, PPE, and other physical and procedural job site safety interventions. However, underneath the physical aspects of health and safety there are also the invisible problems on many U.S. construction sites: the mental wellbeing of the company’s workforce.
This week is Suicide Prevention Week in the construction industry. Many construction industry groups, like the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), and Associated Builders and Contractors of America are devoted to helping remove the remaining stigma surrounding the idea that mental health issues are simply ignorable, or that they aren’t a “big deal.”
Instead, the focus in the industry is on giving construction workers the tools to ask for help when they need it. Workers on a construction site that aren’t in a healthy state of mind could be at greater risk of carelessness or distraction—which in itself is a safety concern that could lead to harming themselves or others.
Last year, more than 68,000 workers from 32 states registered their participation in Construction Suicide Prevention Week.
Construction is a High-Risk Industry
Construction work is rough, rugged, difficult work that requires acute attention to detail and can often be more mentally-taxing than observers would expect. Given the tight project deadlines and detailed work, construction work is stressful. The physical nature of the work can sometimes lead to ailments that require long-term pain-management and therapy. The mental repercussions can lead to a downward spiral for many workers that could include depression—or worse. According to CFMA’s suicide prevention resources page, the construction industry has the highest rate of suicide of any industry in the country.
All of these are reasons why it’s important to take time away from work, ensure lots of time to rest and recuperate—and care for your mental health. Since construction is still a predominantly male industry in which there can be a tendency to downplay certain ailments or problems, it’s more important than ever to remove the stigma of mental health and make help accessible to everyone who needs it. Everyone needs a break sometimes.
Like other workplace accidents and tragedies, workers and employers can help their struggling co-workers a few ways:
- Recognize that changes in behavior, mood, or even what they say can signal a potential risk.
- Ask “Are you okay?” directly in private if you’re concerned about a coworker. Listen without judgement, and encourage them to reach out to HR or a mental health professional.
- Stay in touch if someone is in crisis. If you believe a coworker might be at immediate risk of suicide, please stay with that person until they can get further help.
- Call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
An Alliance for Suicide Prevention in Construction
The good news is that industry groups have continued to help make employers and workers aware of the genuine problem that mental health issues have become. In addition to the efforts of groups like the CFMA, AGC and ABC, several initiatives and resource tools have been created to combat the problem.
The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (or CIASP) is an industry body that is working to educate companies and individuals and has a wealth of information on its website.
The United States Department of Labor also has a fantastic resource page on its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) subsite, where you can find links to many other programs, helplines and tools.
Hear why CFMs should get involved with suicide prevention efforts if you still aren’t convinced that you should integrate these concepts into your construction organization.
ConstructionSuicidePrevention.com also has a litany of resources for employers looking to bolster awareness and organizational participation in this event.
What Can Construction Employers Do?
If you are an employer, supervisor or co-worker and you notice that someone on your team doesn’t seem to be themselves, or if they are engaging in risky behavior, the best thing you can do is talk to them. Sometimes, all it takes to admit there is something wrong and get help is a friendly voice and an understanding ear.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, self-harm or death, or you feel that life is pointless or meaningless, you might have a mental health condition that can be addressed. Remember that mental health is healthcare, and there’s no shame in talking to someone about what’s going on.
David James of CCIFP (a division of CFMA) said of the importance of suicide prevention in the construction industry:
“Safety protocols won’t go away in our companies nor should mental wellness protocols. They need to grow in tandment and become support systems on both the physical and mental side for our workforce. Get the process started in your company: Reach out if you need any help, we’re all here to help.”
If you or anyone you know is potentially suicidal, please encourage them to call 988 and talk to someone who knows what they’re going through.