2020 data shows that the construction industry's suicide rate sits at 45.3 per 100,000 male workers, substantially above the national average of 27.4 per 100,000 male workers.
Typically male-dominated industries showed higher numbers. For example, 79 per 100,000 ironworkers commit suicide, 68 for masons and bricklayers, 65 for roofers. Carpenters and equipment operators also had higher numbers.
"The harsh reality is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among men under 45," said Cal Beyer of Holmes Murphy Construction at a roundtable discussion in Kansas last week. Beyer, vice president of workforce risk and worker wellbeing, said that the increased stress of the "up-and-down nature of work during different economic cycles, including long, often exhausting hours with high-performance standards demanded, followed by seasonal layoffs" could affect suicide numbers.
Construction workers deal with the pressure to meet deadlines and budgets. Frequent layoffs add stress.
Substance abuse correlates with these numbers. "The risk of substance misuse is at an all-time high," Beyer said. "The first path of entry is surgery and occupational injuries. These are people following medical advice, and they end up with addictions.
"It's not an urban problem where you see junkies looking for a fix," he said. "It's boys and girls having suffered from a sports injury; it's muscular-skeletal injuries. It's husbands, fathers, grandparents and sons."
More than 100,000 people in the United States will die from drug overdoses in 2021; opioid overdoses accounted for 71% of these deaths. Also, Beyer said, alcohol abuse has been "normalized by society" for construction workers. Also, one in five workers suffers from mental illness, with less than 45% seeking medical help.
Advising workforce managers and supervisors, Beyer cites three common correlating factors: damaged relationships, legal issues such as DUIs, and custody disputes.
"Those three warning signs flash bright," he said. "If someone is served with divorce papers, make sure they have a buddy to keep tabs on them. Be with someone when they go to court. It's a way to support people as a leader, a worker, a friend. Don't hesitate. There are opportunities to help improve the outcome."
The national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) operates 24/7 with more than 150 different call centers. Press 1 if a veteran and 2 for Spanish.
For the Crisis Textline, text the words "Help" or "Contact" to 741-741; the line responds with information on connecting with a counselor.