The Construction Workers’ Viewpoint: Work Site Safety and Suicide Rates


The Construction Workers’ Viewpoint: Work Site Safety and Suicide Rates

This week, we encourage anyone employing those working in the construction trades to participate in National Stand-Down for Fall Safety and to make greater efforts to keep construction workers safe on the job.

Our last post gave an overview of this week’s national Stand-Down campaign as well as links for resources and further guidance to those interested in participating.  Today, we consider the state of construction safety from the perspective of the construction worker.

Construction Work is Very Dangerous

As all construction workers know, working construction is dangerous.  Construction workers can get seriously injured or killed in all sorts of ways on a work site, from falls to fires to electrocutions, motor vehicle accidents, and more.

It’s an extremely high-risk job site.  National research studies from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries 2015)  show the following:

  • The private construction industry recorded 937 deaths, the highest total since 975 in 2008.
  • More people died working construction than working in any other kind of job except for (1) agriculture, (2) forestry, and (3) fishing and hunting. (These are called the “fatal four”.)
  • Of all worker fatalities in 2015, construction workers accounted for 20% of that number.
  • Of the “fatal four” most dangerous industries, construction is increasing both in fatal on-the-job accidents and in the rate at which deaths are happening in the construction industry. It is the only one of the “fatal four” industries to do so.

Here’s the big question: out on the job, in the real world, what is happening with those working construction?  From roofers to bricklayers to electricians, plumbers, and more – what is their opinion on safety issues on their job sites?

National Safety Council Survey of Construction Workers

Last week, the National Safety Council published its 2017 survey of construction workers and the findings are not comforting to anyone who has a loved one working construction here in Indiana or Illinois.

Here are some things we have learned from the construction workers themselves:

  • 58% of American construction workers believe that the construction industry lets safety take a back seat to productivity and completing job tasks.
  • 51% of American construction workers report that management on the construction site does only the minimum required by law to keep employees safe.
  • 47% of American construction workers say they are afraid to report safety issues and blow the whistle on their bosses who are endangering their lives.

From NSC President Deborah A.P. Hersman:

“Sadly the results of our survey indicate that many workers still worry about whether they will make it home safely tonight. We call on all employers to renew their commitment to keep everyone safe, on every job, each and every day.”  

High Risk of Suicide for Construction Workers

Another shocking reality facing the construction worker:  stress becoming so intense, and life so overwhelming, that they choose suicide as the answer.

There is a shockingly high rate of suicide among construction workers.

  • Suicide is the 10th highest cause of death for all ages (CDC).
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for men 25-54 in the United States (CDC).
  • More people die from suicide than from motor vehicle crashes (CDC).
  • Construction work is in the top nine occupations at risk for suicide (BLS).

Construction Workers Face a Higher Suicide Rate

According to the CDC, construction workers may face a higher risk of suicide because of money issues, as well as relationship concerns that are complicated by a lack of steady employment combined with the fragmented relationships or isolation that can come with working in the construction trades.

Added to this is the possible damage the construction worker may experience from exposure to chemicals and solvents in the course of his work, particularly if he is involved in installation, maintenance, or repair.  These are toxic chemicals that can cause neurotoxic damage, including memory impairment and depressive symptoms.

See, McIntosh WL, Spies E, Stone DM, Lokey CN, Trudeau AT, Bartholow B. Suicide Rates by Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:641–645. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6525a1.

Construction Industry Risk Factors for Suicide

The Alliance for Suicide Prevention has published “A Construction Industry Blueprint: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace.”  They have identified ten suicide risk factors for construction workers.

These include the following (go to their publication for a discussion of all ten risk factors):

  1. Easy access to means of suicide.

Construction workers may have on the job knowledge and access to things that can be lethal and fatal, from tools to chemicals to heights.  These can make them less afraid of these dangers, and make them easier to consider as a means of suicide for the endangered worker.

  1. Culture of accepted drug use.

It’s well known that construction workers use drugs.  Pain relief is a daily task for many construction workers; self-medication is commonplace.  Job injuries can result in chronic pain with prescription pain medication being the only means a worker has to continue doing his job. Pain pills, however, can lead to an increased risk of suicide.

  1. Cyclical work.

Construction workers don’t work nine-to-five.  There are weather interruptions on a construction project.  The economy fluctuates and forces workers through seasons of lay-offs and hires as employers focus on keeping labor costs down.  These feast or famine cycles can be psychologically overwhelming for even the seasoned construction worker.

Employers Have Duty to Keep Workers Safe

From the 2017 survey of construction workers in this country, we know they not only face continued dangers on the job site, but that the attitude among many supervisors and employers is to do as little as possible to make sure those workers are protected from harm while on the job.

The high suicide rate among construction workers also serves to confirm the failure of the construction industry to protect its workers from harm.  Moreover, workers need those wages and are unwilling or unable to come forward as whistleblowers.  So the current reality of high risk of serious injury and death to construction workers in Indiana and Illinois remains.

It is paramount for the construction industry to take steps to make construction workers safe and protected from harm, including self-inflicted harm.  Today, construction workers face serious danger just from doing their job.

For those that are seriously hurt or killed, there are personal injury laws and workers’ compensation systems in place to help them get justice.   However, these claims only exist after tragedy has struck.

Our construction workers deserve protection now – before they are harmed.  Employers choosing profits over people, once again, is causing preventable deaths and tragedies.

________________________

The viewpoint of construction workers is that the construction industry is doing as little as possible to protect them and keep the workers safe from harm.  Construction workers, meanwhile, are facing such severe job stresses and risks that they are at a shockingly high rate of suicide.

Employers need to be prepared to answer for putting profits over people and endangering the lives of their workers.  Let’s be careful out there!

 

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