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10 September 2021

Suicides among unskilled workers rose in 2020

There was an increase in suicides among unskilled construction occupations in 2020, according to new data for England published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Within elementary construction roles, 94 people died by suicide, the highest level for a decade. Similarly, a 10-year peak was seen for suicides within construction operatives, with 59 deaths recorded.

This contrasted with a decline in suicides among skilled construction workers, which fell to 276 in 2020, down from 302 suicides in 2019. Despite the decline, skilled construction and building trades continued to trend as the highest sector of deaths among the ONS’s categorisations of occupations.

New Foundation Employee Counselling chief executive Marc Preston said that the message of mental health awareness reached the tier one firms, but did not penetrate the majority of the construction world and the masses of supply chains that supported it. The former quantity surveyor-turned psychotherapist said: “Tier one companies seem to grasp the nettle, and seem to be having quite good mental health policies, access to counselling, giving some good support. But there’s a limited number of people that work for tier one [firms]. The construction industry is made of tier fours and fives.”

He added that, while the tier one companies employed white collar workers, the supply chain ran deep. He emphasised the need for project-based counselling that covered the subcontractors who are going in and out of the site.

Research carried out by the Glasgow Caledonian University, commissioned by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, found that rates have been steadily climbing in recent years, rising from 26 per 100,000 in 2015 to 29 per 100,000 in 2019. Lighthouse chief executive Bill Hill said at the time that manual workers operating as sole traders could be a factor in the rise: “It is worrying that our support is not reaching the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ workforce,” he said.

Bam Construct released a new video this week that aims to raise awareness and understanding of suicide risks in construction. The company noted that the construction industry continues to see a disproportionately high number of suicides each year, and said the video has been released “as a free resource to highlight the issue and provide guidance for anybody affected”. It has been made available ahead of today’s World Suicide Prevention Day.

Source: Construction News

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