Suicide prevention is a topic that CFMA cares deeply about and is proud to be a leader in raising awareness throughout the construction industry over the last six years. I frequently present on this subject, so let me tell you a true story that explains why we believe suicide prevention is an industry imperative.
About six years ago, I was talking to an electrical contractor about our efforts regarding suicide prevention. After I spoke for a few moments, he asked how I heard about what happened in his company, but I had no idea what he was talking about. He then stated, “We’ve lost three people in the last 18 months due to suicides. The last incident occurred when a superintendent hung himself in the boiler room of a Fortune 100 company. I was asked to go to the location and explain how we could continue to work after this incident. And, the spouse of the deceased employee sued us, blaming us for the employee’s suicide.”
I use this story to highlight a number of issues regarding this topic. First, this is not an isolated problem that impacts one segment of the industry; it happens at many companies, including GCs, subcontractors, and large and small contractors. I had an opportunity to speak to safety professionals at a meeting of the 50 largest contractors in the U.S. At the beginning of my presentation, I asked how many companies were aware of employee suicides in the last year; 60% of company representatives raised their hands.
Second, the costs to a company when a suicide takes place are incalculable. In the story, the immediate costs were defending against a lawsuit. But what about some of the other costs that can’t be calculated, like the morale of your employees on the jobsite, the reputation of the company, and the potential for being terminated from a project because this happened on a jobsite?
Another element of this complicated issue is mental health prior to a suicide, as 46% of those who died by suicide had a previously known mental health condition. Additionally, mental health experts state that 1 in 5 adults, or over 50 million people, experience some form of mental illness. Unresolved depression contributes to a loss of over $200 billion a year in the U.S. economy in areas such as absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs. Additionally, depressed employees miss an average of 31.4 days per year and lose another 27.9 days to unproductivity.
Third, there is hope and information available to help you start addressing this problem. Along with other industry leaders, CFMA helped create the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) in 2016 to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health issues. In 2018, CIASP became a standalone 501(c)(3) organization to raise awareness about suicide prevention and provide resources and tools to create a zero-suicide industry by uniting and supporting the construction community.
Visit preventconstructionsuicide.com to learn about the warning signs of someone who might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, how to respond to an employee with mental health issues, and even go through a needs analysis that will help your company evaluate its preparedness to address mental health and suicide in the workplace. In support of Suicide Prevention Month, download the Suicide Prevention Toolkit at preventconstructionsuicide.com/SPM22 for a social media toolkit, toolbox talks, posters, CIASP QR codes, logos, and more.
Finally, take the CIASP’s pledge to STAND up for suicide prevention at preventconstructionsuicide.com/form.php?form_id=26&c=1 and address it as a health and safety priority in your company.
Suicide prevention is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense to raise awareness of this issue in your company.
Copyright © 2022 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in September/October 2022 CFMA Building Profits magazine.