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Employee Well-Being

Union Pacific Leads the Way in Suicide Prevention Initiatives

Sally Spencer-Thomas | February 23, 2022

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Those in the railroad industry know about the toll suicide takes on employees, customers, families, and communities. As an industry ranked in the top 10 for highest suicide rates, 1 railroad corporations lose employees to suicide each year. Additionally, however, trains are also used as a means for suicide, so tragically, people in the rail industry are often traumatized by witnessing pedestrians ending or trying to end their lives on the tracks.

So, Union Pacific decided to do something about it. As the second-largest railroad company in the United States, Union Pacific took the bold leadership move to take the pledge to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority and have been implementing the practices of the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention. 2 They started using education and information tools to help remove barriers to mental health support and connect their employees with meaningful assistance. The mission? Let people know it's normal to struggle, it's okay to reach out for help, you don't have to go it alone, that understanding support is available, and employees won't be penalized for taking advantage of these resources.

"[Suicide is] the second leading cause of death for middle-aged men," says Mark Jones, Ph.D., Union Pacific's former director of Employee Assistance and Support Services and member of the national Workplace Suicide Prevention and Postvention Committee. "Union Pacific is involved because, our employees live and work in thousands of communities across 23 states, and it's important that we're part of this solution."

Further, the former Union Pacific's Senior Vice President Robert Turner, now the private sector chair of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, offered personal testimony at the US/Canada Forum on Workplace Suicide Prevention.

Belief and Commitment

Each year, Union Pacific supports World Suicide Prevention Day and spreads awareness about the importance of taking action to prevent suicides. After weeks of coordination, Union Pacific mobilizes approximately 200 volunteers to meet their fellow employees as they report to work or leave work and hand them wallet-sized cards about suicide prevention and a key chain imprinted with the inspiring message "Stay Connected." The volunteers estimate they reach approximately 10,000 of the 50,000 Union Pacific employees through this effort in just 1 day.

In addition to this impactful World Suicide Prevention Day program, Union Pacific's suicide prevention efforts go wide and deep. They include Operation RedBlock, a drug and alcohol prevention program; Union Pacific's Peer Support volunteers, employees trained to help coworkers cope with difficult events; and Union Pacific's occupational health nurses who speak with employees system-wide about suicide warning signs and available resources. They even convened an international Railroad Summit that brought together representatives from most of the major railroad stakeholders to find industry-wide solutions.

For more on Union Pacific's leadership in suicide prevention, visit these websites.

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1 Cora Peterson, PhD; Aaron Sussell, PhD; Jia Li, MS; Pamela K. Schumacher; Kristin Yeoman, MD; and Deborah M. Stone, ScD, "Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation—National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 24, 2020.
2 "Workplace Suicide Prevention," Workplace Suicide Prevention, 2022.