Suicide prevention alliance combating the construction industry’s silent killer

Oct. 23, 2023
The industry continues to be at heightened risk for deaths by suicide

Years after an industry group formed to help battle high suicide rates in construction, the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) remains laser focused on its mission: spreading awareness and providing important resources about suicide prevention and mental health to save lives throughout the industry.

CIASP began as a task force within the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) formed in response to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that the construction industry was the most at-risk industry for suicide deaths.

“Once we realized the high risk for construction, as reported by the CDC, CFMA engaged other construction organizations, contractors, unions, and mental health professionals to try to combat this,” says Kristy Domboski, CIASP at-large director and VP of marketing and communications at CFMA.

Suicide statistics

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97% of the U.S. construction workforce is male
  • According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 38% of construction workers in the U.S. in 2018 were between the ages 45 and 64.
  • Male-dominated industries tend to have more suicides. Men in their early 20s through their 50s, account for the bulk of suicides.

    In the construction industry, a variety of reasons make workers at heightened risk for suicide, including working long irregular hours, as well as stress that can take a toll on the body.

    “A few of the most important goals when the CIASP formed are still true, including the need to provide suicide prevention resources to construction companies and construction employers free of charge. CIASP has toolbox talks, mental health screenings, and other resources on our website, and we continue to grow that portfolio,” said Domboski.

    The CIASP has a wide breadth of resources available on their website. Those involved in the construction industry can utilize the alliance’s Toolbox Talk templates to bring transparency to discussions around mental health and suicide. Similarly, CIASP developed a Needs Analysis and Implementation Tool to aid companies in evaluating how they address mental health and suicide prevention in the construction workplace.

    Several industry groups are utilizing these resources and working to develop a safe workplace culture, according to Sonya Bohmann, CIASP executive director.

    “The conversation is happening more than it has happened in the past,” she says. “People are asking and requesting us to come in and talk about our toolbox talks, they're requesting and asking us to talk about some of the other resources that we have. ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) uses the needs analysis, and they share it with all their chapters; Turner Construction uses them in their safety division; Ajax Paving uses them; and Landmark construction uses them.”

    Despite this progress, Bohmann says the industry must work together to remain resilient in the face of combating the silent killer that is suicide.

    “Until we have a zero-suicide industry, none of us are doing enough,” she said. “This topic still has a lot of stigma associated with it. Having companies, especially in leadership, stand up and say, ‘This is something that we're going to care about for 12 months of the year, not just in suicide-prevention month, and we’re willing to put the investment into training it,’ is highly important.”

    Steps to suicide prevention

    Mental health is health and creating protective factors just like we would with physical health saves lives, says Bohmann.

    “I would say the easiest place to start having the conversation, and the place that we reach the people that need to hear the message the most is the toolbox talks. These along with the STAND UP Pledge offer a great way for leaders, to open up the conversation between leadership and boots on the ground,”

    From there, companies can take a few actionable steps to ensure they’re investing in employees’ mental health and acting preventatively.

    "After meeting employees where they are, they can say, ’hey, now that you've taken these toolbox talks, there's some other tools that we want to talk to you about. There's a mindwise screening that you can use, and it's free, and it's confidential.’  And from there, they can start having conversations about how to utilize their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if they have them,” says Bohmann.

    Equally important is making sure these discussions are fully integrated into the company’s culture.

    “It all comes back to culture. If your company culture doesn't align with what you're trying to accomplish within your organization, it's going to be difficult to make real progress,” said Domboski.

    Now is the time for the industry to STAND up for suicide prevention and address it as a health and safety priority by creating safe cultures, providing training to identify and help those at risk, raising awareness about the suicide crisis in construction.

    Take the first step in supporting suicide prevention and take the STAND pledge.

    To help CIASP continue to grow their resources for suicide prevention to the industry consider donating here.

    About the Author

    Harlee Hewitt

    Harlee is associate editor for Construction Equipment. She has a Bachelor's in English with a focus on technical writing.