Recognizing Suicide Risk-Factors in Construction Workers

Originally published by: EHS TodayMay 5, 2017

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The construction and extraction industries have the second-highest rate of suicide – 53.3 per 100,000 workers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Factors that have led to such a high rate of suicide in construction may include:

  • A role that often is isolating
  • Periods of unsteady employment depending on seasons
  • Mental health stigma
  • Sleep disruption
  • Chronic pain caused by manual labor
  • Travel which may separate workers from families and friends
  • Physical strain
  • Access to means of committing suicide like high places
  • Pressure to finish projects
  • Low or inconsistent pay
  • Poor working conditions

As a manager or supervisor, understanding the triggers of stress that can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts and feelings puts you in a position to help others. In addition, initiating mental health campaigns and providing training could assist workers with identifying the signs of stress.

A Male-Dominated Industry

Of course, an undeniable cause of the high suicide rate is the stigma surrounding mental health in the industry, and with men generally.

Construction is a male dominated industry, and men have higher rates of suicide. In fact, for men between the ages of 25 and 54, suicide is the second biggest cause of death.

A ‘tough guy’ culture is damaging to people’s mental well-being and safety because employees don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health.

They may shame themselves for experiencing anxiety, distress, depressive and suicidal feelings because it contradicts the idea ingrained in them that males should not be affected by their emotions. Validating those feelings can help men seek professional guidance or even reach out to someone about how they are feeling.

In addition, substance abuse might begin because of stress and anxiety or to medicate physical pain. Whatever the cause, more than 15 percent of construction workers have abused drugs or alcohol or prescription medications. Some of the most abused prescription drugs include OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin.

A mental health campaign will educate workers to recognize the signs and causes of stress and can help to legitimize feelings of stress and anxiety early on before they turn into depressive and suicidal thoughts.

Likewise, training on substance misuse should include its effects, how to spot it and how employees with a problem will be supported.

The key is to create a supportive environment where people aren’t afraid of being reprimanded.

Recognizing the Signs

Stress typically manifests in three ways: physical, psychological and behavioral.

Work-related stress commonly is caused by one or more of these common factors:

  • Having too much or too little work to do
  • Work that is too difficult or easy
  • Deadlines
  • Shift work
  • Physically-demanding work
  • Poor working conditions such as high noise levels, bad lighting and inefficient equipment
  • A lack of communication from your employee, especially about change
  • A lack of or no managerial support
  • A lack of control over what you do and how you do it
  • Unclear expectations
  • Conflicting messages

To look after the health and well-being of people in the construction industry, companies should have a space for workers during lunch where they can wash their hands, have a drink of water and be comfortable. This kind of space where someone will spend their free time during work is the perfect place to put information posters.

Include a few common signs of stress like these below for workers to read.

Physical signs of stress

Psychological signs of stress

Behavioral signs of stress

  • Tiredness
  • Indigestion
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Joint and back pain
  • Dizziness
  • A tight chest
  • Anxiety
  • Tearfulness
  • Low mood
  • Mood changes
  • Indecision
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased smoking and drinking
  • Withdrawal or aggression
  • Lateness
  • Recklessness
  • Difficulty concentrating



It’s also a good idea to communicate the causes of stress directly to them. Doing so is essential for legitimizing how construction workers feel. It provides a certain solidity to emotions which often can feel abstract.

Not being able to talk about these feelings tends to make them worse and stops poor mental health from being recognized as a real and common issue in society. Everyone suffers from low mood, depression or anxiety from time to time, and they shouldn’t be shamed.


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