Tackling suicide in construction

‘Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a fall from height’

A panel is set to discuss mental health, depression and suicide in construction at this week’s Safety & Health Expo at London’s Excel.

Martin Coyd, Head of Health and Safety for Construction at Mace and David Cornberg, Technical Director at Capita, join The Healthy Work company’s Lauren Applebey for a discussion about why suicide is so prevalent in the construction sector.

  • Suicide is the biggest killer in men under 50;
  • Every two hours someone in the UK takes their own life;
  • Construction has the highest suicide rate of any profession.

Construction suicide risk

The Office for National Statistics reported more suicides in construction than any other profession in the five years to the end of 2015, with 1,409 men committing suicide and 10 women. Low skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than falls from height.

There are many suggestions as to why construction has higher than average rates of suicide. The fact that is male dominated increases the risk immediately, with 75% of people who take their own lives in the UK being men. However, women are diagnosed almost twice as often with mental ill health conditions like anxiety. This seems to show that men are not seeking that help they so often need, either because they are not able to recognise that they are ill, because they fear stigma discrimination, or because they are not sure what help is available.

Creating the right culture for wellbeing

A great place to start the conversation around wellbeing is simply just that; to start the conversation. Within construction Mental Health First Aid, The Health in Construction Leadership Group, Mates in Mind and The Construction Industry Helpline are encouraging a new era of dialogue around mental ill health, and asking for everyone to take ownership for their mental health and to keep an eye out for any concerning signs and symptoms in their workmates and colleagues.

Mental Health First Aiders on sites now act as first responders, looking out for signs of distress, championing better cultures around mental health, and knowing how to deal with crisis situations around trauma, panic attacks and suicidal crisis.

SHExpo 2018

The panel will discuss how can you tell if a colleague might be depressed, or considering taking their own life, what should you do if you’re concerned for a colleague, how you can get help if you’re feeling suicidal; and how health and safety teams can make a difference.

Martin Coyd, a key player in mental health in construction, will be exploring his views on why construction has such a high rate of suicide. Speaking to SHP Martin said that there is a history of men masking their feelings, finding it hard to be honest about their incredibly low moods. Feelings like this are often masked with drink and drugs, Martin added.

“The problem is going to get worse before it gets better but it’s time to start the conversation and get people understanding mental health”.

David Cornberg will be adding a personal touch to the panel, discussing his own battle with mental ill health and talking about the impact it had on him in the workplace.

Lauren Applebey, a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, who started in health and safety in construction 13 years ago, who will be chairing the discussion, will be exploring what it is that puts construction workers into such a high-risk group.

“Construction is obviously a very male dominated industry and three quarters of suicides involve men, but there is much more to it than that. Having heard Martin speak on this topic many times, I think how valued workers feel, and the meaning and purpose they get from their work is key. Construction can be very uncertain, for many it is a gig economy – working conditions are often not brilliant, they can be high risk, shift work, away from home. This can lead to many men feeling like they are living outside of their own lives”.

The panel discussion: Tackling suicide in construction, takes place in the Occupational Health and Wellbeing Theatre, 15:10 – 15:50, at Safety & Health Expo, on 21 June 2018.

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Categories: Blog, Common Workplace Hazards, Construction, Leadership, Mental Health, Occupational Health, SHE 2018, Wellbeing, Wellbeing, Working At Height, Workplace Illness


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