Expert Commentary

Make Suicide Prevention a Health and Safety Priority

On July 1, 2016, the CDC released its report on occupation and suicide for many employers. For the first time, researchers were able to rank industries by deaths by suicide. This milestone report immediately got the attention of risk managers concerned about the health of their workers.

Employee Well-Being
March 2017

Below is a summary of the CDC's findings. 

Occupational Rank for Highest Rates of Suicide Deaths1
RANK Occupation Rate per 100,000
1 Farming, fishing, and forestry 84.5
2 Construction and extraction 53.3
3 Installation, maintenance, and repair 47.9
4 Production 34.5
5 Architecture and engineering 32.2
6 Protective service 30.5
7 Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media 24.3
8 Computer and mathematical 23.3
9 Transportation and material moving 22.3
10 Management 20.3
Occupational Rank for Highest Numbers of Suicide Deaths2
RANK Occupational Group Numbers (%)
1 Construction and extraction 1,324 (10.8)
2 Management 1,049 (8.5)
3 Production 953 (7.7)
4 Installation, maintenance, and repair 780 (6.3)
5 Unknown 729 (5.9)
6 Student 665 (5.4)
7 Sales and related 651 (5.3)
8 Transportation and material moving 644 (5.2)
9 Homemaker, housewife 534 (4.3)
10 Office and administrative support 481 (3.9)

For the highest-risk industries, there is often a perfect storm of risk: the demographics of the workforce and the nature of the work itself. Workforces that are male dominated tend to have higher rates of suicide because men die by suicide at nearly four times the rate of women and represent 77.9 percent of all suicides (CDC, 2015). Additionally, industries that have the following qualities also tend to have a higher risk for suicide.

  • Access to means of deadly harm (e.g., firearms, pills, high places)
  • Culture of fearlessness, recklessness, or stoicism
  • Exposed to traumatic events
  • Culture of substance abuse
  • Fragmented community or isolation
  • Humiliation or shame
  • Sense of purposelessness
  • Entrapment (feeling trapped in a distressing work situation)

The Opioid Influence

Jobs that inflict muscular-skeletal strain sometimes lead to cascading mental health and addiction challenges. Many pain sufferers are legitimately given opioid-based medications to manage their pain, and these medications can quickly lead to addiction. In addition, the emotional aspects of long-term pain often result in hopelessness and isolation.

Temporary Workers

Another risk factor is related to the fact that many workers in high-risk industries are temporary and transitory labor. Because of this fluctuating job situation, workers often have unstable incomes, inconsistent access to health care, and travel demands that take them away from family and friends. Furthermore, they are less likely to find a sense of belonging at work, and experiencing community connectedness is one of the strongest protective factors against suicide.


The good news is that organizations like the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the Construction Financial Management Association are creating road maps to help companies across all industries integrate psychological safety into existing safety culture.

Because most adults spend more waking hours at work than they do at home, workplaces are critical partners in a community approach to suicide prevention. Employers who value the well-being of their staff realize that it is not good enough to get people home safely from work, they also need to provide support in making sure employees get back to work safely from home. Like most cultural change, a multidimensional, long-term strategy is warranted when integrating mental health services, training, communication strategies, leadership, and crisis response.

For more information or to book Dr. Spencer-Thomas as a speaker/trainer, visit

1Wendy LiKamWa McIntosh, Deborah M. Stone, Colby N. Lokey, Aimée-Rika T. Trudeau, Brad Bartholow, "Suicide Rates by Occupational Group—17 States, 2012," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 1, 2016.


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