Making Suicide Prevention a Part of Construction Safety Culture

With construction workers’ suicide rate at four times the national average, Lendlease is leading the way to foster a supportive culture for workers internally and in the industry as a whole.
By Edmund McCombs
September 28, 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 the construction industry. The sector ranks highest in the total number of suicides in the U.S. 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, one of the largest construction firms in the U.S., is trying to lead the way in fostering a supportive culture for workers both internally and in the industry as a whole.

Changing the Mindset About Safety and Mental Health

In 2014, Lendlease created the Global Mental Health Peer Group to assess its operations around the world with the goal of understanding how policies and procedures could extend beyond physical safety and ensure that it created mentally safe workplaces as well.

The official journey began when Lendlease connected and partnered with a wide array of mental health organizations to gain a greater understanding of how it could most effectively support the mental wellbeing of employees. The 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, Lendlease engaged a diverse group of program providers and mental health organizations to ensure that its people have resources and support available to them whatever their situation.

Making good intentions good practices

Once this mental health approach was in place, Lendlease began to incorporate mental wellbeing into the safety culture in an explicit, defined and documented manner.

At Lendlease, Global Minimum Requirements are a framework that controls the key risks of operations. When the latest revision was launched in October 2015, it made mental health a part of Risk Event Mitigating Controls, ensuring mental wellbeing is a key safety consideration across all projects in all 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; and
  • 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 the organization and with its subcontractors on its sites. Lendlease also had more than 10 percent of its 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 it has embedded within company culture. By remaining diligent, adaptable and proactive in its approach, Lendlease aims to continue creating a culture of care across the business and extending its reach and impact across the entire construction industry.

by Edmund McCombs
Edmund McCombs has been with Lendlease for over nine years, working across various areas of the business within Australia and the US. Edmund currently works within the Sustainability function in New York City and has been instrumental in the design, development and delivery of various community partnerships and health and wellbeing programs, particularly in the space of mental health.

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