Sharpening our “H” Skills in Construction Suicide Prevention

Unseen mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, can be just as hazardous to worker safety as the physical hazards that our industry is mostly focused on. After all, we can’t mitigate a mental state with caution tape and your hard hat doesn’t exactly protect what’s inside of your head.

However, 83% of construction workers have experienced a mental health issue. This means there’s a good chance that multiple workers, supervisors, company executives, and subcontractors on your jobsite have experienced an issue at some point.

Construction has the highest suicide rate of all industries at FOUR TIMES higher than the national average. It’s also FIVE TIMES greater than all other construction fatalities combined, meaning if the industry considered mental hazards as they do physical hazards, it would top the list of OSHA’s Fatal Four Hazards!

WHY is it higher in construction than anywhere else?

  • Competitive, high-pressure work environment
  • Shame and “tough guy” stigma
  • Fear of judgement by peers
  • Chronic pain from years of hard labor
  • Layoffs and seasonal employment causes isolation
  • Fear of negative job consequences
  • Travel to remote projects creating separation from loved ones
  • Prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Sleep disruption and changing shifts due to construction schedules
  • Don’t know how to access care or low utilization of assistance programs

Additionally, 89% of construction workers are men who, in general, underreport mental health issues and feel forced to just “deal with it” and not seek the help they need, making symptoms worse.

To prove this point, the 2021 Pulse Survey Report says that 94% of the construction industry recognizes the importance of sharing mental health resources, reducing stigma, and encouraging people to get help. However, only 17% would openly discuss mental health with a supervisor or co-worker.

That’s quite a gap between the issue and fixing it.

It is everyone’s responsibility on the jobsite to keep each other safe. If you see decreased productivity, increased conflict among co-workers, near misses, decreased problem-solving ability, increased tardiness, strike up the conversation. If you think you’re having complacency issues (many of the signs are the same), then LOOK DEEPER… someone could be mentally struggling.

Mental & physical health are also directly correlated. Chronic stress can contribute to more serious issues like high blood pressure, exhaustion, decreased immune system, lost focus. The mental and physical symptoms are compounded and create a significant safety hazard on construction sites.

In an effort to realize that “it's okay to not be okay”, here are 3 areas where Helmkamp employees can best sharpen their skills:

  1. HAZARDS in Mental Health: Be aware of the physical & behavioral signs.
  2. HELPFUL Conversations: Be a compassionate co-worker. Have a safety timeout if someone needs to refocus.
  3. HIGHER Standards: Hold each other and the company accountable for improving the level of mental health awareness and resources on the jobsite, lowering the stigma.

We must protect each other from the external (physical) safety threats as well as the internal ones.

IMMEDIATE RESOURCES CAN BE FOUND HERE at the (CIASP) Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s website.