How Suicide Prevention is a Workforce Development Strategy


Construction companies are facing two major issues: both related to the workforce:

  1. Employees in construction occupations are dying by suicide at a higher rate than any other group.
  2. The workforce available is insufficient to fill open positions resulting in a severe labor shortage.

On the surface these seem like two very different problems, but the underlying causes for each are more closely aligned than might be expected. By building in protective factors to reduce suicide risk, contractors may also be able to improve some of the reasons that potential workforce give for not wanting to join the industry.


The media, television, and movies have created an image of the construction workforce as big and burly, dusty and dirty, rough and tough. Coarse language and even harassing behaviors may be associated with those in the industry. While this image may be exaggerated by the media, there is a definite stoic, macho, rough and tough mentality that still exists in the industry. This can result in a message of “suck it up” or “toughen up”—not beneficial for those experiencing mental health conditions or at risk of suicide and needing to be able to reach out to someone for help. This stoic nature is also a barrier to forming relationships and teams which are necessary to create a network of support for those at risk.

This same image and a possible lack of team atmosphere or rough, possibly harassing behaviors are a turn off for the new workforce that values relationships and has a higher level of sensitivity. It is also a major barrier to women, who are a large and untapped potential workforce, from entering the construction trades and occupations.

By encouraging more positive communication and healthy conflict resolution while having zero-tolerance for harassing behaviors, the industry can become a safer place from those feeling alienated when they are experiencing mental health issues or suicidal thoughts. By creating strong teams, a safe space can be created for people to ask for help, and workers can know each other well enough to recognize suicide warning signs. And through all of this, a more welcoming and positive image can be created which may encourage potential workers to enter the industry.


Construction projects have requirements that place schedule and travel demands on those building them. It is not uncommon for jobsites to be run around the clock, or at night, which creates the need for shift work. Erratic schedules can be challenging for someone living with a mental illness or suicidal thoughts when sleep is already problematic. Construction sites may also be in remote areas, or far from home requiring travel. This can take at risk individuals away from their support systems at home and can also create unhealthy behaviors such as substance misuse to deal with loneliness and isolation.

These same elements of construction projects also remove some of the scheduling flexibility that today’s workforce is seeking, and pose a challenge to families, especially single parent families who are responsible for childcare. In fact, unpredictable schedules are a top reason given by eligible employees for not wanting to enter the construction industry.

While the scheduling requirements and locations of projects cannot be changed, the considerations given for staffing them can. Getting to know employees and their personal needs can help with this. For example, efforts can be made to keep the new father at home with his family instead of sent to the out of town project, and the single mother kept on day shifts so that she can work while daycare is available. This not only makes the industry more inviting but also protects workers from the stress of family needs not being met and potential relationship strain.


Construction jobsites are filled with potential dangers and, despite an increased focus on safety over the past several decades, injuries do still occur. Even when injury incidents don’t occur, the physical nature of construction work can result in wear and tear on the body. Both of these can create chronic pain and future physical limitations, and each of these situations are risk factors for suicide. A true sense of hopelessness can result from feelings of “I will always be in pain” or “I can’t physically do the work or make a living.” And, the chronic pain issues can result in addictions—possibly of legally prescribed drugs like opioids, or by self-medication with alcohol or illicit drugs.

While some are drawn to the potential dangers in construction (another suicide risk factor is risk-seeking behaviors), others are scared away from working in construction because of these risks, and also the fear of physical wear and tear that could lead to problems later in life.

By promoting safety programs and all of the measures that are taken to keep workers safe, the perception of construction as unsafe can be changed. Return-to-work programs, proper management of workers compensation claims and education on the risks of opioids can all reduce the risk for suicide related to workplace injuries. Implementing stretch-and-flex programs, training on proper lifting techniques, and promoting physical wellness programs that encourage people to adopt fitness habits are all ways to help prevent overuse injuries and chronic pain, and are attractive tools for recruitment.


When we look at the boomer generation that is starting to retire from the construction workforce, many of them have worked in construction for their entire lives. They may have held the same or similar position their full career, becoming true experts of their craft and having a deep sense of pride in what they have been a part of building. This deep but narrow skill set can have a negative side to it, though, if someone desires or needs a career change due to personal circumstances or physical limitations but cannot seek one due to lack of knowledge or experience. This can result in feelings of hopelessness and increase suicide risk.

The incoming generation views any type of stagnancy in role or lack of career path as a negative reflection on the construction industry. To attract new workers and deepen the talent pipeline, construction employers need to create clear training and advancement plans and show how construction occupations provide opportunity for continued growth, development and increased level of responsibility. This not only helps with attracting employees but, as they grow in other areas of knowledge, it also allows them to work longer into positions with less physical demand—removing the element of getting “stuck” in a position they can no longer do and improving the succession and knowledge transfer in positions in the company.


There are multiple risk factors driving the suicide rate in construction to more than three times the rate of the general population; many of those risk factors align with barriers to a new generation of workforce and discourage women from pursuing construction occupations. There are many ways addressing these issues can reduce the risk of suicide and the negative perception of careers in construction, but they all boil down to one thing: creating caring cultures.

By creating caring cultures, construction jobsites become safe spaces for those at risk of suicide to seek help as well as being more welcoming to new team members. By considering the person in assigning shifts and travel assignments, the families of the workforce can be preserved and it can be shown that healthy life-work balance is possible. By emphasizing total worker safety and promoting steps for lifelong well-being, the current workforce can be protected and construction occupations can be viewed as safe. And by creating ongoing career development opportunities, employees can have a path for growth and see that it’s possible to have a fulfilling career in construction.

Through quality management training to help put these measures into practice and a focus on developing strong teams and peer support networks in construction companies, the construction industry can change the statistics on suicide risk and workforce shortages.


Read the original article on Construction Executive.

What Our Clients Say:

  • “My experience with the SSC was positive. Their professionalism, efficiency, and commitment to customer service made me feel confident in their ability to handle my construction needs. I would definitely recommend their services to others in need of a reliable construction office.”

    Kyler Colin, General Managing Partner, Phoenix Water Solutions

  • “I was impressed with the communication and appreciate SSC’s help to get this potholing done in a quick and professional manner.”

    Lynne Stocker, Assistant Project Manager, Garney Construction

  • “Workers were very knowledgeable about how to find the utilities despite differences in the drawings and actual field conditions. Very helpful in going above and beyond by working with us.”

    Johnathan Hoffman, Assistant Project Manager, City of Sedona

  • “Their collaboration with my team on large-scale infrastructure upgrade projects has been exceptional. Their expertise and professionalism have been invaluable in delivering successful outcomes. I highly recommend SSC Underground to any organization in need of top-notch services.”

    Ben Kooinga, Project Manager

  • “The Crew from SSC went above and beyond to locate our water line that turned out to be more challenging than originally expected.”

    Kevin Tallman, Director of Construction, Shane Co Jewelers

  • “SSC is accommodating and punctual.”

    Jeff Strasser, Managing Partner-Custom Structures LLC

  • “We had a project in North Scottsdale that had to be completed while school was out for Christmas break. I gave SSC one week notice and sent them plans with over 80 potholes. They jumped right on it and completed the work for us to meet our deadline. Everyone from Michelle and Arvid in the […]

    Kelley Hlavsa, Project Manager, Achen Gardner Construction

  • “Really appreciate you helping us with our boring need. The drilling crew did a great job and completed the entire job above and beyond our expectations, without any issues. We look forward to working with you again if any such need arises in future.”

    Satya Chataut, BHP

  • “Arvid, you and your team performed a difficult task with precision and safety at the forefront. Well done and thank you for all of your efforts.”

    Kelly Haberly, B&F Contracting

  • “Just wanted to reach out and say thank you for your crews’ work today at Asante Well #4. They were safe, professional, and went above and beyond making sure the site was cleaned up after they left. Please pass my thanks onto your crew.”

    JT Core, Felix Construction

  • “Just wanted to say thank you for the safety culture your company has. It’s a breath of fresh air to see other companies embracing being safe. I sat in on your crews’ safety meeting this morning prior to the start of their work on Ray Rd. “

    Scott Nunemaker – Vice President, RCCM

  • “Kuddos to your guys. Not once has any of your foreman’s EVER put up a fuss when I’ve asked them to work a little late. Response is always “whatever you want and we’ll stay as long as you need us to.” I really appreciate all the hard work they do for me.”

    Travis Barrick – Field Supervisor, Felix Construction

  • “A big thank you to SSC for jumping on this quickly as they did to help the team get this information so quickly. It’s much appreciated and was pretty impressive to see 5 separate potholing crews descend upon Rio Salado the way they did today!”

    Christopher Laute, Resident Engineer, Valley Metro

  • We’ve used SSC for a number of years and I’ve been very pleased. Thanks and keep up the great work.

    Dave Klann, Staff Engineer, Mactec

  • SSC did a great job. Their assistance during pre-construction was greatly appreciated and differentiated them from the competition. Keep doing what you do best!

    Jim Drago, Sundt Construction

  • I called with short notice to some work and SSC responded immediately. In this market, dollars seem to control everything and quality of people and work seem to have diminished. The professionalism and hard work of your crew takes me back to when people knew what they were doing and cared. Intelligent guys that work […]

    Lonnie Ferguson, Project Manager, Construction 70

  • As a civil engineering consultant, I usually recommend your services but rarely use them with the exception being vacuum excavating. I have attended your seminars in the past and find them very helpful. I recommend continuing the education to make designers better. If we understand and know how to specify your service, we are more […]

    Bill Gasque, Sr. Civil Engineer, Dowl HKM

  • SSC handled the project perfectly even went above to schedule directly with the gas company, made my job easier.

    Tony Smith, Owner, Western Underground

  • You and your staff are always responsive to our needs and make sure you clearly understand the scope of the work in advance, so there are no surprises. I really appreciate that attitude.

    Michael Rhodes, Civil Engineer, Gila River Indian Community

  • Overall a good company. Very professional in approach and execution of work. Courtesy and respect shown by all personnel, a welcome rarity in the business. Keep doing what you’re doing, and thank you.

    M. Gartner, Project Manager, Sybrant Construction

  • Your field crew did a great job!

    Nick Nikrant, Project Manager, Builders Guild

  • Crew was courteous & helpful.

    Jayde Bullard, Project Manager, Caljet of America, LLC.

  • This is the second time working with this foreman. Will request him again. Easy to work with.

    David Willett, Aero Automatic Sprinkler Co.

  • Superb foreman…Exceptional!

    Curtis Briggs, Shea Homes

  • Great work! SSC was timely, responsive and professional. I would use them again.

    Stewart Vaghti, Project Engineer, Gannett Fleming, Inc.

  • I have always had good and quick service from SSC.

    Sally Raymer, Sundt Construction

  • Arvid was very accommodating in getting crew onsite within 2 hours of my call.

    Dennis Sime, Project Superintendent, Hunter Contracting

  • First I want to express once again how impressed I am with you and your support group. You are all “top notch.” Yes the job went well and I appreciate your help. It really made a huge difference on such a critical facility. I still can’t believe (even though I saw it with my own […]

    David McKinley, VFC-Arizona

  • Great service on short notice. Thanks!

    Richard Komzelman, Carson Construction

  • The entire SSC crew was extremely professional and flexible. All of your company’s efforts are greatly appreciated and you will be our boring subcontractor on any future projects.

    Ben Myers, Project Manager, GRG Construction

  • Your team made this challenging casing push a success.

    Michael Fossett, Project Manager, SDB Inc.

  • Extensive knowledge of the local soil conditions coupled with their proven skills has insured that every job is completed within our schedule and budget. We’ve worked with SSC for many years and always found them to more than equal our high required standards and able to complete any task.

    Brian Chavez, Chief Estimator/Project Manager, Tyers Contracting

  • I would like to thank you for your prompt response to our urgent need for your services. The men you sent did a fantastic and quick bore. We do so appreciate your company for that. Thanks!

    Patricia Riggs, Town of Gila Bend

  • Our job was especially challenging. The SSC team worked six days, around the clock and the testimony to the success of their efforts is that the general public never knew they were here. An additional thanks to SSC for their professional courtesy. In our industry, it is something I do not encounter often enough.

    Chris McCoy, Superintendent, Gilbane Building Company

  • Your project manpower’s knowledge, attitude, safety and work ethic are outstanding!

    Mike Levi, Estimator/Project Manager, Holloman Corporation