DoL taskforce raises awareness of suicide risk in US construction industry
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Construction worker

While the hazards most often associated with workplace deaths in the US construction industry – falling, being struck by or crushed by equipment, or suffering electrocution – are well-known, a recent study finds that another potential killer is taking lives at an alarming rate.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that men working in construction have one of the highest suicide rates compared to other US industries. Their rate of suicide is about four times higher than the general population.

While the CDC continues its research to understand the disparity, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has formed a taskforce of industry partners, unions, and educators to raise awareness of the types of stress that can push construction workers into depression and toward suicide.

In addition to alerting stakeholders, the taskforce encourages industry employers to share and discuss available resources with their workers.

The taskforce is calling on the industry to take part in a weeklong “Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down”, from 6-10 September, to raise awareness about the unique challenges construction workers face. The stand-down will coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month in September.

“Work-related stress can have severe impacts on mental health and without proper support may lead to substance abuse and even suicide,” stated Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labour 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.”

The stand-down started as a regional initiative in OSHA’s Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, offices with the Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of Missouri, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, Washington University, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, local unions, and several employers.

More than 5,000 people participated in the 2020 stand-down, and OSHA has encouraged others to join the effort in 2021.

“Like many workplace fatalities, suicides can be prevented,” said Billie Kizer, OSHA acting regional administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “We encourage employers to use all available resources, familiarise themselves with the problem and learn to recognise the warning signs of depression. We also urge workers to seek help if they feel overwhelmed or overcome by a loss of hope.”