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Suicide rates have climbed to a 30-year high, with almost 43,000 cases reported in 2015. Construction has long been recognized as a high-risk industry for suicide. There are industry and demographic risk factors that intersect to make the construction workforce a vulnerable at-risk group.

To help mitigate this risk, organizations including the Carson. J. Spencer Foundation and National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention developed the Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace. Following is how FNF, Inc., a Tempe, Ariz.-based heavy/highway contractor, is using the blueprint to manage mental health and the risk of suicide in construction.

Tools for Mental Health Management

The blueprint provides ways for upper management to start a discussion about mental health with employees. “[The blueprint] provided me a tool to open the dialogue with key management personnel. Nothing will happen without open and honest discussion,” says David James, chief financial officer of FNF, Inc.

It uses terms specific to construction to help relate to and reach its target audience, from upper management to field workers, to help spread the message effectively. “It addresses the issue of suicide in terms that relate to our industry and talks our language,” James says.

James states being aware of mental health issues requires a change in the company’s mindset to make sure the jobsite is safe and the employees are healthy. The blueprint provides tools for leadership to develop a company culture that is more supportive, aware and attentive to mental health issues.

“We talk about the importance of our employees going home to their families every night,” James says. “Contractors like us need to talk about these same employees coming back to the jobsite the next day with mental wellbeing, ready to connect with their peers and contribute to the project.”

Finding Company Solutions

To create a culture the focuses on mental wellbeing in addition to physical safety, FNF is expanding its internal communications with supervisors and employees on mental health awareness. The company is seeking to increase the use of its employee assistance program and its internal wellness program. In addition, FNF is better communicating and encouraging employees to use the existing services available.

“The next steps will be to take the awareness and resource offerings to the next level,” James says. “The vision is to achieve a level on par with our existing safety program by considering how to take our Zero Accident Program to Zero Suicides.”

FNF and the local chapters of Associated Builders and Contractors and the Construction Financial Management Association helped hold a regional Suicide Prevention Summit in Phoenix in April, which 100 contractors and community-based mental health professionals attended.

“The summit brought the industry and the behavioral health community together to begin the dialogue,” James says. “Now, contractors need to carry the message to other contractors. This may be through one-on-one conversations, company meetings, industry association gatherings or any other forum to spread the message.”

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