Boosting peer-to-peer support is critical in reducing the construction industry’s high suicide rate, said mental health advocates at the Construction Working Minds Summit, held May 17-18 in Denver. Around 200 attendees exchanged strategies to foster psychological safety at jobsites, similar to how the industry has spent decades improving physical safety.

“We view this as a safety issue, and we’ve completely changed our culture,” said Jon Kinning, COO of RK Industries. In addition to prevention training and toolbox talks, RK implemented a leave-of-absence policy that includes mental health and aligned its employee assistance program with mental health providers so that all are in network. As a result, 20 suicides have been averted, he said.

Conference attendee Melanie Leonard, an HR director for Yeh and Associates, said “the light bulb went off hearing about how one of the panelists had actually put mental health resources into their onboarding package, and how important that has been for retention at their organization.”

“We are in a historic movement” of “getting together and getting organized,” said conference co-organizer Sally Spencer-Thomas, who also provided in-depth daylong “train-the-trainer” sessions to 33 participants. These trainers will return to their companies and hold training sessions with safety staff and other field personnel who will then disseminate suicide prevention support to their jobsites.

Trainee Dan Lester, director of field diversity, inclusion and culture at Clayco, aims to instruct psychological safety ambassadors who will create “a community inside our organization” that can provide interim care similar to CPR until the at-risk person can meet with a certified health provider.