Rate of suicide more than twice as high in construction industry than general population, finds U.S. report

There are many ways construction employers can help their workers who are living with mental health issues

Dec. 14, 2022

By MJ MacDonald

At industry event in the fall of 2021, during COVID, I was sitting at a table with a union leader who told me he personally knew of six people who had died by suicide in the past year in the construction sector. He said it was a real wakeup call for him that something needed to be done. I couldn’t agree more.

Suicide is a very real problem in the construction industry. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has issued various reports that found the rate of suicide is over twice as high in the construction industry than in the general population, and “construction and extraction” is the #1 occupational group for deaths by suicide.

In Nova Scotia, 142 people died by suicide in 2021 (107 were men), up from 121 in 2020. This is the highest on record since data were collected on this metric in 2008. While we don’t yet have an industry breakdown in Nova Scotia, it is likely safe to assume given statistics in comparable jurisdictions that some of these people were construction workers. Construction Safety Nova Scotia is working on forming a partnership soon with a like-minded agency to determine a sector breakdown going forward.


There are many reasons why suicide rates are high in the construction sector. For starters, the very male dominated environment fosters a tough male culture where workers don’t talk about their feelings, which has been the societal message to men for decades.

Job insecurity can be another factor which may be the case for workers in a seasonal construction business. Workers may also not have benefits to help them access some of the supports they need for mental health issues they may be struggling with, such as psychologists, counsellors, or an employee assistance program. According to the CDC report, other contributing factors include long work hours, low job control, and high job stress.

If workers are not getting the help they need, they can suffer from serious mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, and may often self-medicate with drinking or drugs.


Fortunately, there is a lot that construction employers can do to support the mental health of their workforce and put measures in place well before suicide is a thought. Just like a physical injury, treating a mental heath injury as soon as possible is the key to a successful recovery.

The first step is creating a work environment where it is safe, comfortable, and normal to talk about your feelings. COVID certainly helped people open up about the challenges and struggles they are facing emotionally, and the workplace needs to be a safe space for those conversations as well.

Watch out for the signs of suicide risk. Are they talking about feeling hopeless? Are they abusing drugs or alcohol? Are they having many near misses or other safety incidents? Are they withdrawing from social interactions? Are they going through a difficult personal time, such as a divorce or the loss of a loved one? Are they saying they want to die? If you see any of these signs amongst your colleagues or workforce, just start with asking a simple question: “Are you okay?” Then listen to what they are going through, encourage appropriate action and supports, and make sure to check back in periodically to see how they’re doing.

As part of our own learning and support for our team at CSNS, over 80 percent of our staff is trained in Mental Health First Aid. This 1.5 day Mental Health Foundation of Canada course provides an excellent orientation to recognizing the signs of mental health stress, and provides training on how to respond, very similar to the traditional first aid. We will be launching this new course for our members in the coming months.

In addition, we are exploring the development of a peer-to-peer support program for construction workers in the province. This will allow workers to share knowledge and experiences, all while connecting with a community of mutual support. The program will serve to help dismantle self stigma, promote recovery, and aid in suicide prevention. Any construction companies interested in partnering with CSNS can reach out to Kyla Porter, OHS Advisor, at kporter@constructionsafetyns.ca. The program is expected to rollout by the end of 2023.

Additionally, CSNS has several resources available on our website to support construction sector employers broach the difficult topic of suicide in the workplace:

  • Four toolbox talks on warning signs, how to talk about suicide, the risk of suicide in construction, and making mental health a priority
  • Suicide prevention posters
  • Needs analysis and implementation tool.

Suicide is a heavy topic to address, but just like any physical injury early intervention is crucial. If you suspect a worker might be thinking about suicide, intervene today and help them get the support they need.

MJ MacDonald is the CEO of Construction Safety Nova Scotia, a non-profit association aimed at improving safety outcomes for the construction sector across the province. All employers under the construction industry classification codes 4011-4499 & 3551 are automatically members of the association and benefit from discounted safety training, free safety program guidance, and reduced COR® costs.

Where to get help?

Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line: Available 24/7 at 1.888.429.8167

Hope for Wellness Helpline & On-Line Chat Counseling Service: Available 24/7 at 1.855.242.3310

Eskasoni Mental Health Services (EMHS) and Crisis & Referral Centre: Available 24/7 at 902.379.2910 or visit https://www.eskasonimentalhealth.org/.

Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.