According to the Centers for Disease Control, 53.5 out of every 100,000, construction workers in the United States committed suicide in 2012. That is a startling figure that points out a side of the construction industry that many people are unaware of. The numbers among female construction workers were even higher at 134.3 suicides for every 100,000 workers.
Why are these numbers so alarmingly high? In all of the professions considered for this study, only farmers had a higher rate of suicide than construction workers. Some observers feel that the construction industry does not bring the issues that cause suicide out into the open, and that is what allows these numbers to rise. But what are the causes? Why are so many construction workers committing suicide?
Is Suicide Unique To Women In Construction?
Less than one percent of the construction worker population is women, but yet women face a unique set of issues in the workplace. It is estimated that seven out of every 10 women involved in carpenter apprenticeship programs drop out. It is believed that many do so because of rampant sexual misconduct by male workers.
When you look at the numbers, it is easy to see what women are up against in the construction workplace. While sexual harassment may not be the only cause for female suicides in the construction industry, it is certainly an extra level of stress that women have to deal with when working in construction.
The Financial Ups And Downs
Life as a construction worker means having an income that is rarely stable. You might get unemployment during the slow months of the year, but it does not make up for the money you are losing by not working. Construction, as an industry, is extremely unpredictable for workers. Since 2008, work has been up and down, which means that worker incomes have also been up and down.
A construction worker living on their own, may not experience the crushing feeling of confinement that comes with not getting a steady paycheck all year round. But as a construction worker gets older and starts a family, the lack of funds on a regular basis is keenly felt.
Many experts believe that the ups and downs of income in the construction industry give some workers the feeling that their lives will never improve. They start to believe that they will never have the money they need to make ends meet. This belief can create a sense of helplessness that can lead to suicide.
The “Tough Guy” Syndrome In The Industry
Construction workers tolerate a variety of workplace hardships beyond a fluctuating income. They sustain injuries on the job, and their health can be affected by the repeated abuse their bodies take over the years.
Most construction workers do not want to seem weak in front of their co-workers, so they tolerate the pain and the inconsistent pay instead of addressing the issues they may have. The result can be that the worker feels there is no other way out but suicide, and the idea of talking problems out with someone is simply not part of their thought process.
What Companies Can Do
The first step a construction company can take to address this problem is to admit that there is a problem. The rate of suicide in the construction industry is not something new. However, it is a subject that companies repeatedly avoid talking about.
Companies need to focus on mental health resources for their workers and give workers discreet ways to handle some of these ongoing problems. There can be financial counseling services that help workers to budget their money better. In addition, there can be pain management consultants available to assist workers who are experiencing chronic pain.
The environment that prevents workers from reaching out for help is something that also needs to change. Labor unions need to educate workers on their options when it comes to counseling services. There also needs to be a concentrated effort to lift the stigma that comes with asking for help. Until companies, unions, and workers decide to attack the problem of suicide in the construction industry together, it is possible that anything about the startling suicide numbers will change.