14th May 2024

Suicide in the construction industry - what can we do?

Written by Danielle Sheppard.

Did you know that workers in the construction industry are nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than the national average? While the current focus on Carbon in the built environment can only be a good thing as an industry, we shouldn’t just focus on the environmental element of ESG.  There is a huge issue here with mental health, which is being addressed directly by construction companies, however, I think it generally seems to go unnoticed by investors and developers in UK real estate.   It is imperative that we raise awareness of the issue and talk about how we, as investors and professionals in can help.

Most people are aware that suicide is one of the biggest causes of death amongst men and women in the UK, however, a sobering fact is that in 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives, equivalent to two workers every day.   Suicide rates have recently increased, despite the growth in mental health support, and in addition to this, 26% of construction industry workers had experienced suicidal thoughts. Other statistics include that 91% felt overwhelmed, 86% experienced a lack of self-confidence and 95% experienced poor concentration[1].  These are frightening statistics, having huge implications for site safety.   In my spare time I am a Samaritans listening volunteer and as such, I have some experience with suicide and reading these statistics makes me really concerned. 

There are a number of reasons suicide is high amongst construction workers; it tends to be physically demanding work, long hours, has exposure to the elements and these issues are exacerbated by relatively poor pay and lack of job security.  In addition, the industry is very male dominated and suffers from an ‘alpha culture’ which can lead to a stigma around discussing mental health issues, preventing people from seeking help or simply confiding in those around them when they are feeling low.  I know from experience how good it is just to talk when you are suffering.

It may seem that as investors and developers we are too removed from construction workers to be able to help or even take an interest, but I feel that this is wrong. and we need to start talking about how we can help turn these alarming statistics around. 

I recently went to speak to one of our contractors, Winvic, about what they were doing to combat mental health issues and I found their response fascinating.  Heidi Salmon, who heads up their social responsibility said;

“Winvic is committed to being a responsible business by doing things in the right way and leaving a positive legacy. As part of our Sustainability and ESG Strategy, our People Pillar working group focuses on ensuring Winvic is a happy, safe, healthy and inclusive place to work. 

We believe that mental health holds equal importance to physical health, and they mutually influence each other. Taking action to address concerning statistics regarding mental health and well-being within the construction industry, we have implemented several initiatives. These include training 5% of our permanent staff (25 individuals) as Mental Health First Aiders, partnering with MyZone to offer heart rate monitors alongside monthly fitness challenges to promote physical activity, and organising our annual 24-hour National Fitness Day Challenge.

During this challenge, Winvic employees keep three pieces of cardio equipment running for 24 hours and participate in 'The Winvic Games' to encourage movement among our workforce. Additionally, this event serves as a fundraiser for essential causes such as The Lighthouse Club, a charity dedicated entirely to supporting the emotional, physical, and financial well-being of construction workers and their families.

To further support our staff, we distribute monthly well-being newsletters, taking proactive steps to address the stigma surrounding mental health and well-being in an industry traditionally dominated by men. We are committed to promoting mental health awareness by delivering talks on national well-being awareness days/ weeks. In April 2024, we partnered with Mates in Mind to become a supporter of the leading UK charity raising awareness and addressing the stigma of poor mental health. 

During Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2024, we will implement mental health awareness training through Mates in Mind, for line managers throughout our organisation. This training aims to equip managers with the ability to recognise signs of poor mental health within their teams.

Our 'Doing It Right' ethos and commitment to ESG ensures we always prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, workforce and members of the public.”

At Barwood we have put a number of steps in place to ensure that main contractors we work with, like Winvic, are addressing the issue of mental health with their employees.  When going out to tender, we are asking for evidence of their mental health and wellbeing policies and what health and wellbeing facilities are on site and do they pay fair wages.  We ask if they are affiliated with any charities such as Lighthouse that offer support to workers.

As investors and developers, it is our responsibility to go beyond the price of a project when awarding contracts and demonstrate that main contractors will be scored on these factors during the tender process, and whether they win or lose, a contract will be decided not just on price but also on the sort of employer they are. 

Sub-contractors also have a responsibility to their employees and we should ask the same of them as its main contractors. There are a large number of workers that aren’t lucky enough to work directly for the Winvic’s of this world but will still be on our sites.  Let’s make sure we insist that we only want sub-contractors on our sites that pay their workers promptly, provide support for workers, and that do take these issues seriously.  If you look at the statistics it is likely that those reading this article will have a number of people working on schemes who are having suicidal thoughts and may go on to tragically take their own lives.

As an industry I’d like to see us do more to help prevent suicide.


What to do if you're not feeling okay.

You can get in touch with the Samaritans about anything that’s troubling you, no matter how large or small the issue feels.

Call now for free on 116 123

The Samaritans are here to listen, no judgement, no pressure, and help you work through what's on your mind. We'll never tell you what to do.


Find out more about The Lighthouse Club Charity


[1] Mental Health in the built environment – CIOB 2020