Suicide in the Construction Industry
For men up to age 45, suicide is the second most common cause of death in Canada, after accidents. This means that more men in this age group will commit suicide than pass away from cancer, heart disease or a stroke. And the statistics are even worse for those in the construction industry where the rate of suicide is 3 times the national average; 53.2 versus 17.3 per 100,000 workers (Purdin, 2018).
The costs per suicide are even more alarming. A study in New Brunswick found the cost of suicide per death to be $849,877 (Clayton, 1999) while an American study calculated the number at over $1 million (Shepard, 2015). More than 97% of these costs are due to lost productivity, while the remaining 3 percent are costs associated with provision of emergency medical services.
While demographics certainly play a role in the high rates of suicide in construction (women account for only 12 percent of workers in the construction industry (Ferreira, 2017) and have 3 times lower rates of suicide (Navaneelan, 2017)), the nature of the work also factors in.
- Job insecurity: Depending on the type of trade and geographic region, availability of work can fluctuate throughout the year impacting financial, family arrangements and mental health
- High workplace stress: Working in extreme weather, dangerous working conditions, and with hazardous materials can impact both physical and mental health
- Easy access to lethal means: Pesticides, high heights and poisonous fumes are only some of the means of suicide more readily accessible to those in the construction industry
- Inconsistent work schedule: Rotating shift work or interruptions in work can cause issues with sleep, family routines and interpersonal relationships
- Workplace culture: While attitudes are certainly changing, workplace cultures in many construction companies still deal with old-fashioned stereotypes about mental health and wellness such as “He is just faking it to get out of work”, or “She just needs to learn to deal with her issues.”.
The good news is that the construction industry has taken note of these disheartening statistics and has begun to act. Over the past year, industry leaders, mental health experts, safety associations and other stakeholders have hosted discussions, conferences and training sessions with the goal of raising awareness, providing practical tools to employers and reducing rates of suicide amongst workers.
When implementing suicide prevention efforts, employers are encouraged to think holistically about the issue, rather than simply focusing on self-harm warning signs and what to do if you think an employee may be suicidal. The goal should be to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and the provision of services and care to employees before they reach the point of suicide contemplation.
Employers should consider:
- An Employee Assistance Program which offers free, confidential resources for team members looking for support with counselling, child and elder care resources, financial and legal services, health and wellness support amongst others.
- A comprehensive benefits package which includes a reasonable amount for psychological and counselling services
- Providing team members with personal or “mental health” days
- Training for management on suicide prevention awareness and how to foster a culture encouraging self-care and seeking support
- Corporate policies and programs that aim to eliminate workplace sexual harassment and violence
Purdin et al. (2018, November 16) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Retrieved from
Clayton, Dale and Barcelo, Alberto. (1999). The cost of suicide mortality in New Brunswick. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 20(2),89-95.
Shepard, D. S., Gurewich, D., Lwin, A. K., Reed, G. A., Jr., & Silverman, M. M. (2015). Suicide and suicidal attempts in the United States: Costs and policy implications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.
Ferreira, B (2017, December) Women in Construction: The Rising Trend of Women in the Construction Industry. Retrieved from
Navaneelan (2017, June 16) Statistics Canada. Suicide Rates: An Overview. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm