As a contractor, I would occasionally hear someone say a job is a “money maker” or a “real loser.” Real costs versus the billed amount are only a number until there is understanding of what is behind the number. How many times have you not taken the time to analyze the numbers only to realize the job you thought was going well was really a loser? We have all been fooled at one point or the other.
In my days leading our company, the bottom number didn’t mean a lot to me. I was focused on what was behind that number, such as what were the estimated versus actual labor hours, costs and production rates for key bid items? As a contractor, I wanted to understand every item that goes into the final number.
Similarly, mental health and suicide statistics are only numbers until we understand what is behind them. If we’re going to make our industry better, we need to truly know and understand the construction industry’s statistics. The numbers show that in 2020, there were 3,839 suicide deaths in Canada and 45,979 suicide deaths in the United States.
In 2020, the number of suicide deaths in the Canadian construction industry was the second highest of any industry, and the U.S. construction industry had the highest number of suicide deaths of any industry. In both instances, the rate of suicide for those in the construction industry was four to five times that of the general population. Per United Suicide Survivors International, “Deaths by suicide in the construction industry are five times higher than all construction related accidents.” It’s easy for these statistics to just feel like numbers until it becomes personal.
At the beginning of my presentations, I ask the audience to raise their hand if they have been impacted by suicide, and nearly 100% raise their hands. Statistically speaking, as a leader in the construction industry, you probably have (or have had) employees who have been impacted by suicide. You, as a construction industry leader, probably have (or have had) employees living with mental health and/or substance use issues, and some of them may have contemplated suicide.
The way for our industry to start reducing these statistics is to provide support to those who could potentially contribute to those numbers. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I would encourage you to initiate a discussion with your employees about mental health and suicide prevention. End the silence and make it a safe topic to talk about.
There are many resources and materials available that construction employers should be aware of. Check out materials at www.preventconstructionsuicide.com, www.iupathelpinghand.org, www.nami.org, www.afsp.org, www.suicideprevention.ca and www.suicideinfo.ca. In the United States you can now call or text 988 if someone is having a mental crisis; and you may also call 800-273-8255 or text 741741. In Canada call 833-456-4566 or text 686868. In March of 2023 Canada will also be implementing the 988-call number. These services are available on a 24/7 basis.
I am going to close with a story of a union painter this past week. His story came to my attention as he was, in his words, “in a very dark place.” The good news is this person was willing and able to ask for help, and I was able to refer him to an IUPAT Helping Hand champion. Hopefully your employees would be willing to reach out to you in their time of need, and hopefully you would have some of the listed resources above available. Our industry has focused on preventing job site fatalities; now is the time to also focus on preventing suicide deaths in our industry.
Sources for this blog include the following: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (www.suicideprevention.ca), Centre for Suicide Prevention (www.suicdeinfo.ca), and the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide (www.preventconstructionsuicide.com).