The Department of Construction Management at Colorado State University is taking steps to educate students about an issue in the construction industry: a high incidence of suicide. The department hosted guest lecturer Marshall Spring to discuss suicide prevention methods in the professional industry. Spring represents the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County and spoke to students in several sections of the department’s CON 317 Safety Management class.
Thanks to a grant awarded to Larimer County from the Front Range construction industry, businesses and classes have the option to learn how to identify risks and connect those who are experiencing mental health issues with the right resources.
The Safety Management class is designed to give students a well-rounded overview of what they can expect and what safety measures and protocols to look like in the industry. This includes building leadership skills, providing a positive culture for employees, and crisis management techniques.
“We cover OSHA standards in great depth, how to identify and analyze risks and hazards, and how to mitigate or eliminate those risks with proper controls,” said Chad Olivier, instructor in the Department of Construction Management.
Given the safety topics covered in the class, it made sense to also incorporate raising awareness about mental health issues and suicide.
Addressing mental health
The professional construction industry has seen a rise in suicide cases in the past several years. In 2016, the suicide rate for male construction workers was estimated to be 49.4 out of 100,000, which is five times greater than fatal work-related injuries in the construction field according to the CDC. This lecture is meant to educate construction management students on what they can do in their professional careers to be aware of the signs of mental health struggles and creating healthy work environments.
“Looking at how I will choose to enter my career in construction management, my hope is to make mental health a priority on every jobsite I enter,” said Jaiden Lussier, a sophomore in Construction Management. “Checking in with fellow coworkers will become a daily/weekly task deemed just as important as any other project task. I am incredibly grateful that I get opportunities like this now to learn all the ins and outs of construction because having perspective of the human side of construction and that key aspect of working with others is incredibly valuable. This lecture was one of those impactful examples that make me thankful that I go to CSU for my degree.”
The lecture provided an overview of the Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and how it is pioneering an effort to raise awareness of suicide rates, and more importantly providing essential training and intervention. Spring discussed suicide rates among different occupations, and highlighted the high suicide rate for construction as an occupation. He also discussed possible reasons for this, and more importantly some steps we can take as leaders to help in the effort to intervene and steer people toward the help they need. This lecture was a summary of a longer training initiative known as “Question, Persuade, Refer” and helped the class understand that it is not their role to provide counseling or intervention for any mental health crisis, but to point people toward available resources.
“I learned how to help someone who is mentally distraught,” said Kendall Peterson, a junior in Construction Management. “A process called QPR, Question, Persuade, Refer, is a way to assist someone in getting help. I really enjoyed this lecture because I never knew this process was a thing. I think more classes need to incorporate a mental health lecture. This was the first time I have had a formal education of suicide prevention and it is crucial for people our age to be aware of our resources.”