Why construction workers are more at risk of suicide and what to do about it
By Neil Gerrard11 September 2023
Sunday (10 September) was World Suicide Prevention Day.
It’s a sad fact that suicide is a far more likely cause of death among construction workers than site accidents.
Recent data from the UK showed that construction suicides in England and Wales were at their highest levels since records began at 34 per 100,000.
In the US, that rate is even higher, at 45.3 male construction workers per 100,000.
In Australia, the male construction worker suicide rate between 2001 and 2019 was 26.6, making it double that of male workers in other occupations.
But what factors make construction workers more susceptible to suicide? And what steps can employers take to help them?
The causes of suicide among construction workers are complex. They depend on the individual, their working environment and their personal life. But some common factors are:
- Being male: Construction workers are predominantly men. Men in western countries tend to be at much greater risk of suicide. That’s illustrated by the fact that while the suicide in the US for male workers is 45.3 per 100,000, it’s just 9.4 among female construction workers.
- Transient working: The nature of their work means that construction professionals, from labourers up to management, can end up working long hours in temporary accommodation away from their support network of family and friends.
- Post-traumatic stress: Some construction workers, particularly who have entered the industry after a career in the military, are already suffering from mental health issues like post-traumatic stress.
- Substance abuse: Ageing workers and/or those who suffer from chronic pain can end up turning to alcohol and other substances as coping mechanisms which can end up exacerbating mental health conditions.
- Workplace stress: Construction workers who are grappling with limited control over their job, job insecurity, deadline pressures or bullying in the workplace can be more susceptible to suicide risk.
- Relationship problems and lack of access to children.
- Personal debt.
Fostering better mental health
Countries like Australia, the US and UK are leading the way when it comes to fostering better mental health on construction sites. Organisations like Mates in Construction in Australia, Mates in Mind and the Lighthouse Club in the UK, and the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention in the US offer training initiatives to raise awareness.
In the UK, Mates in Mind offers a two-day ‘Mental health first aider’ course for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of mental health. Alongside that are training courses to help change workplace culture and generate awareness about mental ill-health. There’s also a trove of other online resources on its website.
Similarly, Mates in Construction offers general awareness training to workers, as well as ‘Connector’ training for those who volunteer to keep people on site safe in a crisis, while at the same time connecting them to professional help.
Meanwhile, the Lighthouse Club has a range of resources on its Building Mental Health portal, including a free, adaptable toolbox talk.
Mates in Construction has produced a five-point blueprint on how to prevent suicide in the industry. It has set out five pillars to create a framework for strong workplace mental health. They are:
- Reduce the harmful impacts of work
- Provide mental health and suicide prevention literacy
- Facilitate early intervention and treatment
- Provide return-to-work and ongoing support
- Promote work’s positive impact on mental health
Who to call in a crisis
The Lighthouse Club provides financial or wellbeing support in the UK and Ireland - call their 24/7 confidential Construction Industry Helpline for help now on 0345 609 1956 in the UK, and 1800 939 122 in Ireland.
Mates In Construction offers a free, confidential helpline in Australia available 24/7 on 1300 642 111 or 0800 111 315 in New Zealand.
The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention refers those in crisis to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US which provides immediate help on 1-800-273-TALK (8255)