New year resolutions

4 March 2020

You’re supposed to floss your teeth, quit smoking, eat more vegetables, get 30 minutes of exercise each day, cut down on anything worth eating or drinking, and the list goes on. And whether or not you actually do that, or try to, the doctor or dentist is told one’s very best efforts are being applied, mostly.

Would that attitude pass muster on a job site?

In the construction industry there’s never been more opportunity to share and implement best practice for health and safety, and the health and safety of workers on the job site have never been more valued.

Nearly half a million people are expected to have lost their lives building the Great Wall of China. Then there’s all the lore surrounding the treacherous working conditions on New York’s earliest mega projects like the Brooklyn Bridge, its first subway and its many skyscrapers. Workers are no longer expendable.

However it may not seem like best efforts are being applied, or at least not from a mental health perspective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced suicide among the US’ working-population, which is ages 16-64, is up some 40 per cent over the last 17 years.

This new research calculates suicide rates for major industry and occupational groups, with five industry groups and six major occupational groups having higher suicide rates than did the overall study population. Construction is the second highest, following mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction.

With such a dramatic increase across the general population, all industries and occupational groups would benefit from a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. However the higher proportion affecting construction and the extractive industry highlights opportunities for targeting strategies.

Previous research indicated suicide risk is associated with low-skilled work, lower education, work-related access to lethal means, and job stress, including poor supervisory and colleague support, low job control, and job insecurity, among other factors. It’s time for employers, unions and professional associations to examine any risk factors in the industry that can be mitigated to contribute to a decline in the prevalence of suicide among the working population.

This issue focuses on health and wellbeing, though admittedly only scratching the surface of what could be done, discussed and disseminated throughout the industry. Do get in touch with any thoughts on the matter or something your team is doing well, so while the outlook may seem bleak, we can also celebrate how far health and safety has come in the industry.