You don’t have to look far in the construction industry, or be in it very long, before you see or hear safety messaging.
“Think safety and go home with everything you brought to the job in the morning,” is one typical rallying cry.
But there’s far less talk in the industry about “mental safety”—not giving in to the demons of depression, addiction, or financial and familial problems.
In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified the construction trades as an occupation second most likely to commit suicide. Farmers, lumberjacks, and fishermen have the highest rate. Mechanics “and those who do installation, maintenance, and repair” have come in third in this dark race.
The construction trades were lumped together in the CDC study with other trades people such as carpenters, miners, and electricians. Although the study didn’t provide reasons for the high rate, research has found that laborers, who often work alone, or workers who face seasonal or unpredictable unemployment, have higher suicide rates.
Seasonal and unpredictable employment should ring a bell with a lot of construction workers. And technicians are often under pressure to fix all that comes their way, fast.
There is some industry-specific help, however.
The Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) has taken a role in efforts to prevent suicide in construction. Most recently, CFMA formed the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention to gather and disseminate key information and resources, share education and programming for CFMA chapters across North America, and promote initiatives to support suicide prevention.
“At CFMA’s 2016 Annual Conference & Exhibition, we brought the topic of suicide prevention to an audience of our nearly 1,300 attendees by offering two general education sessions and presentations to chapter leaders, providing flash drives, and introducing our new online resource at www.cfma.org/suicideprevention,” says Stuart Binstock, CFMA president & CEO. “Efforts are also underway to encourage our industry partners to join the Alliance with the ultimate goal of preventing death by suicide in the construction industry.”
CFMA chair Ken Chiccotella says, “As a construction company controller, I understand the importance of protecting and supporting our most valuable asset—our human capital. Not only the physical well-being, but also the mental health of our workforce, must be core to our business strategies and goals.”
CFMA’s Valley of the Sun Chapter recently presented the inaugural Suicide Prevention Summit, a collaboration between construction and mental health professionals to discuss suicide prevention for the construction industry. Designed for construction industry CEOs, CFOs, HR professionals, and safety and risk managers, the event provided knowledge and resources to more than 100 industry professionals in the Phoenix area. Other CFMA chapters are following suit.
The newly released “Construction + Suicide Prevention” publications by Cal Beyer, director of Risk Management at Lakeside Industries and Executive Committee member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO and co-founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, mental health advocate and survivor of her brother’s suicide, address why suicide prevention is an imperative in the construction industry and provide 10 action steps companies can take to save lives.
“Construction industry leaders are stepping forward and changing culture with a new vision around suicide prevention,” Dr. Spencer-Thomas says.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is already citing the CFMA resources and website in support of the cause.