Canadian Occupational Safety

May/June 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 25 of 35

F E A T U R E 26 MENTAL HEALTH: BREAKING GROUND With one of the highest suicide rates, the construction industry desperately needs to retool its approach to mental health. COS spoke with two advocates who are pushing the conversation forward. gender and age. Statistics Canada reports that men in the 45-59 age category are at greatest risk and that the suicide rate among males is three times higher than that for females. Nevertheless, suicide in the construction industry has only in the last few years become a growing concern. Why is the industry so high-risk? One of the reasons why suicide and mental health issues are so prevalent could be because construction is a male-dominated industry and men are less likely to talk about their issues with their employers, colleagues or families. However, one must take care in making gender-related assumptions and, in any case, it is much harder to address and find solutions for mental distress when both male and female workers are not being open or maybe not even realizing that they have a problem. Gullestrup explains: "One of the things we found when we talked to the mental health experts is that, if the men don't seek help, we can't do what we're called to do." "There are some specific reasons why it's at that level in our industry… It's a more male-dominated industry; more women attempt suicide, but men use more lethal methods," says Grant. MENTAL wellness is an increasingly essential topic in the occupational health and safety sector, with some industries more at risk than others. In a study published in 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) assesses that, in the United States, one of the highest suicide rates among men was workers in construction and mining jobs, totalling 43.6 deaths for every 100,000 workers in 2012. This rose to 53.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2015. "It's a significant issue; it's the second leading cause of death in our industry behind cancer," says Donna Grant, marketing and proposal manager with Scott Construction Group as well as a member of the firm's mental health committee. The numbers are staggering, not just in North America but globally, too. Australian mental health organization MATES in Construction (MATES) published a report in 2017 with findings on mental health in the construction industry. The report estimates that between 2001 and 2003 in Australia, the rates of suicide among male construction workers were 2.3 times that of other male workers. Between 2011 and 2013, these rates were found to be 1.7 that of other male workers. "Suicide doesn't impact equally; most suicides are by men, and being a male-dominated culture, there's even more [in construction]," says Jorgen Gullestrup, founder and CEO of Australia's MATES. Although numbers are more difficult to come by for the Canadian construction industry, Statistics Canada reports that suicide remains one of the top 10 causes of death in Canada: Around 11 people die by suicide each day. This number is influenced by The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, globally, 800,000 people die by suicide every year. Furthermore, it estimates that around 20% of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning (occurring in rural agricultural areas). Other common methods of suicide include hanging and firearms. In this instance, construction workers certainly have ready access to fatal instruments and materials, which could be a factor. MATES' report raises a host of reasons why suicide is so prevalent in "One of the things we found when we talked to the mental health experts is that, if the men don't seek help, we can't do what we're called to do." Jorgen Gullestrup, founder and CEO of MATES in Construction KEY FACTS ABOUT SUICIDE IN CANADA In 2009, there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, a rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people. Source: Statistics Canada The suicide rate for males was three times higher than the rate for females (17.9 versus 5.3 per 100,000). Although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, those aged 40 to 59 had the highest rates. Married people had a lower suicide rate than those who were single, divorced or widowed.

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