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September 30, 2021

Suicide – Construction’s Dirty Secret

Construction workers engage in activities every day that may expose them to serious hazards. 

Away from the jobsite, construction industry participants also deal with extremely serious health issues, including drug abuse, and the highest suicide rate for any industry.

Fatal Injuries

The construction industry is known for being one of the most dangerous occupations.

Out of every 5,000 private-industry worker fatalities, 1,000 are in construction!

That means one out of every five worker deaths is construction-related!  

Safety must be paramount in the industry.

The “Fatal Four” leading accidents are responsible for 58.6 percent of construction worker deaths according to OSHA.

  • Falls 33.5   

  • Struck by an object 11.1 

  • Electrocution 8.5  

  • Caught in or between and object 5.5

Companies with 10 or fewer employees, and those who are self-employed, account for nearly half of all deaths on construction sites. 

Nearly all of the injuries and deaths are preventable. The safety problems are tied largely to the construction industry's organization and how the work is performed. 

Many hazardous scenarios result from inadequacies in access to information, long work hours, stress, lack of measurement and warning technology, and forgoing personal protective equipment.

Non-Fatal Injuries in Construction

Construction also results in many non-fatal injuries that cost companies millions of dollars per year.

  • One in every 10 construction workers is injured annually.

  • Construction has non-fatal injury rates that are 70% higher than any other industry.

  • Work-related injuries caused companies to lose over 1 million production days in 2018

  • Indirect costs for injuries can be as much as 17 times more than direct costs.

It is estimated that construction site injuries account for 6–9 percent of the total project costs, while safety and health programs only account for only 2–3 percent of project costs. 

The cost savings to the company are secondary to the obvious benefits of keeping workers safe, but a safe workplace can also result in indirect benefits like a positive company reputation, the ability to recruit the best talent, and improved employee morale.

Regardless of why a company decides to focus on workplace safety, it should be viewed as an essential task. 

Drugs and Alcohol

A job in construction is very challenging, both physically and mentally. Many in the construction industry resort to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or to self-medicate physical pain. Some of the reasons that construction workers turn to substances include:

  • Precarious employment

  • Physical pain and injury

  • Stress

  • Long work days

Employees of the construction industry, mostly blue-collar workers, have nearly twice the rate of substance abuse as the national average, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Around 15% of all construction workers in the United States have a substance abuse disorder compared to 8.6% of the adult general population. 

Other statistics from this study pertaining to construction workers include:

  • 12% have an alcohol use disorder compared to 7.5% nationally

  • 11.6% of construction workers reported illicit drug use within the last month

  • 14.3% of construction workers were diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder in 2019, more that 1 ½ times the average of full time workers surveyed

The construction industry has been particularly affected by the opioid epidemic, and workers in this field are among the most susceptible to opioid abuse. About 1.3% of construction workers have an opioid use disorder, almost twice the national average according to a report from the National Safety Council. 

Almost 3 out of 4 injured construction workers were prescribed a narcotic pain killer in 2016. Construction workers have the highest mortality rates for drug overdose deaths and prescription overdose deaths in the nation.

Precarious employment is associated with higher prevalence of usage and addiction. An employee missing 1-2 days in a month because the participant did not want to go into work was associated with increased odds for use of marijuana, cocaine, and opioid abuse. An employee missing 3-5 days of work in a month because of sickness or injury was associated with double the odds of abusing opioids..

Having written drug policies for the workplace was associated with reduced odds for cocaine use.  Workplace tests for drug use during hiring, and random drug testing were also associated with lower odds of marijuana use.

Suicide, a sensitive topic.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often unmentionable topic. 

Some facts from the National Alliance on Mental Health

Individual Impact:

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.

  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.

  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.

  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.

  • While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms.

How does the construction industry measure up?

The answer - Not very good!

Surprisingly, the number one risk in the construction industry isn’t physical, but rather mental. Beating out working from heights as the number one cause of fatality is suicide. 

Suicide was 5 times greater than the rate of all fatal work-related injuries in the construction industry in 2018. 

In the USA, the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2018 there were 1,008 construction fatalities but 5,242 suicides by construction workers that year, equating to a rate of 45.3 per 100,000. This compares with an average male suicide rate of 27.4 per 100,000.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report showed that 53.3 construction workers out of every 100,000 fall to suicide.  A stark difference to the overall suicide rate of 12.93 people per 100,000 in the United States.

Suicide average amongst low-skilled male construction workers is almost four times the national average, putting the likelihood of suicide in our industry 63% higher than in any other reporting group. 

The big question is why? What is it about working in the construction industry that drives people to take their own lives more so than in other industries? 

  • Some credit the insecure nature of the job combined with low pay, exploitation and bullying.

  • Some construction employees are contract workers who often have irregular schedules. 

  • Additionally, construction workers typically work more hours than the average American each week. 

These frequent changes to work schedules and additional workloads have been linked to employee stress.

While management and administrative construction positions have salaries that are comparable to national averages, low wages are common for many employees entering the construction trade. These low wages can have obvious direct implications on job satisfaction and stress outside of work.

Research from the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, an organization focused on suicide prevention, has found that industries with the highest risk of suicide have the following factors:

  • A male dominated workforce

  • A widespread substance abuse problem

  • A shift work system

  • Access to a lethal means for suicide

  • Fearlessness in a risk-taking environment

Construction work often calls for travel.  Working on the road one lacks the support system you have in place at home. Alcohol and drug abuse can become a problem which amplifies any troubles an employee is already dealing with.Mental health must be treated with the same level of concern as physical health. It needs to be addressed at tool box talks. Encourage frank discussion and conversation. Be proactive in providing means for workers to talk to a colleague or manager. Simple actions can make a big difference and possibly prevent someone from reaching the crisis point.The following three should prompt you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or a mental health professional:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself. Communication may be veiled, such as: “I just can’t take it anymore.” or “What’s the use?”

  • Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

DigiBuild's founders are committed to reducing suicide incidents and improving mental health within the industry. We believe that along with the many safety advances that are transforming on-site safety like PPE, drones and robotics to name a few; having software tools that lower stress levels and increase efficiency can go a long way to making construction safer.

There is a better way, and our mission is to build blockchain solutions and connected platforms to create a healthier and happier global construction industry.

The result will be a happier workforce, happier clients, and a well-respected construction industry.

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