Making Suicide Prevention a Part of Construction Safety Culture

16 Oct 2018

Across the globe, one out of every four people* will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Mental health disorders are the leading worldwide cause** of illness and disability, with 450 million people currently living with mental illness. To say the problem is widespread is an understatement.

But the issue of mental health is even more pressing in our own construction industry. The sector ranks highest in the total number of suicides in the US by industry, with construction workers having a suicide rate of 53.3 (per 100,000 people), four times the national average of 12.54.

With that in mind, it’s imperative that construction managers and general contractors be proactive about mental health and suicide prevention. Lendlease, as one of the largest construction firms in the US, is trying to lead the way in fostering a supportive culture for workers both internally and in the industry as a whole.  

Changing our mindset about safety and mental health
In 2014, Lendlease created the Global Mental Health Peer Group to assess our operations around the world with the goal of understanding how our policies and procedures could extend beyond physical safety and ensure that we create mentally safe workplaces as well.
 
Our official journey began when we connected and partnered with a wide array of mental health organizations to gain a greater understanding of how we could most effectively support the mental wellbeing of our employees. Our first key takeaway from that effort was that, like physical health, mental health is not a simple continuum of good to bad; rather, it is a complex and complicated determination that will change throughout one’s lifetime.

Understanding that, Lendlease established a four-pronged Mental Health Approach: 1) Education/Awareness, 2) Early Intervention, 3) Active Intervention, and 4) Recovery and Maintenance. To facilitate this, we’ve engaged a diverse group of program providers and mental health organizations to ensure that our people have resources and support available to them whatever their situation. 

Making good intentions good practices

Once this Mental Health Approach was in place, we began to incorporate mental wellbeing into our safety culture in an explicit, defined, and documented manner. 

At Lendlease, our Global Minimum Requirements are a framework that controls the key risks of our operations. When the latest revision was launched in October 2015, we made mental health a part of our Risk Event Mitigating Controls, ensuring mental wellbeing is a key safety consideration across all of our projects in all of our global regions. 

These requirements include:
  • establishing an Employee Assistance Program with independent counselling and support lines available for those feeling stress or living with other mental illnesses
  • providing general awareness programs appropriate to roles and relationships with the business
  • training employees to identify signs of poor mental health in colleagues and contractors
  • training employees to intervene and direct individuals showing signs of mental health issues to appropriate professional support
In addition to these global initiatives, Lendlease Americas has joined the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, as well as established a pilot program with Living Works, a suicide prevention organization, to raise awareness of suicide within our organization and with our subcontractors on our sites. We’ve also had over 10 percent of our employees trained in the world-renowned Mental Health  First Aid program.

Ultimately, mental wellbeing and suicide prevention is a business imperative at Lendlease and something we’ve embedded within our company culture. By remaining diligent, adaptable, and proactive in our approach, we aim to continue creating a culture of care across our business and extending our reach and impact across the entire construction industry.

Reposted from constructionexec.com, Oct. 5, 2018 a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

*http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/
**http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/