Glasgow Caledonian University analysed suicide statistics from 2015 to 2019 and found that the number per 100,000 for construction workers rose from 26 to 29 over the four years.
The issue is most acute for construction’s unskilled and blue collar workers, where the suicide rate increased from 48 to just over 73 per 100,000.
Those working in non-manual occupations, such as managers and professionals, have a much lower suicide rate, less than 7 per 100,000 in 2015, and just under 5 in 2019.
Overall, those working in the construction industry are three times more likely to take their own life than in other sectors, the numbers show.
The study was commissioned by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, whose chief executive Bill Hill said: “It is worrying that our support is not reaching the ‘boots on the ground’ workforce. This could be because about 53% of our workforce are self-employed, agency or zero hour contractors and we are simply not getting our message down the supply chain. Even more worrying, is that these statistics are pre-pandemic so the full impact of this won’t be revealed until further data is released in October of this year.”
Professor Billy Hare, who led the research, said: “This occupational group (unskilled workers) is usually higher than average for suicides, but the sharp rise and widening gap over the period analysed, in contrast to their non-manual colleagues, is concerning and may indicate recent initiatives are not reaching these more vulnerable sectors of the industry.”
The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity has been providing free support through its 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline, a supporting helpline app and wellbeing training. But in response to the research findings it plans to step up its efforts with more initiatives, including the development of Lighthouse Beacons, a nationwide network of ‘safe places’ for construction workers to talk in a confidential environment about their issues. It is also piloting a mental wellbeing support programme with London colleges to instil in those starting their construction career an appreciation of mental wellbeing.
Bill Hill added: “We are ensuring that there are no barriers to accessing our charitable services by making them all free, including all of our MHFA [mental health first aid] training and wellbeing masterclasses. But, this is a collective responsibility and the industry as a whole must pull together to ensure that every person in our construction community knows where to turn to for support. We need to stop people feeling so desperate that they feel they have no other alternative than taking their own life.”