From 2007-18, more than 2,800 suicides occurred in the workplace, an average of 284 each year. This is in addition to the approximately 44,000 nonoccupational suicides that occur in the U.S. each year. While the subject of suicide and the factors that can lead to it are difficult to discuss, occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals can take steps to foster a more open and supportive work environment where people are more willing and able to discuss these topics.
In a Best Practices article titled “Workplace Suicide Prevention”, Lori Schroth examines different methods you can use to help prevent suicide among your workers.
Institute Wellness Programs and Committees
Wellness programs aim to meet the physical, mental, occupational, emotional and spiritual needs of the workforce and are designed to foster an environment that supports healthy and positive behaviors. Wellness committees take the initiative of wellness programs one step further by bringing together employees from all levels of the organization to have a dialogue and promote good health and wellness.
During these conversations, participants can share opinions and develop action plans to launch initiatives that will create a healthier, more positive working environment. Such activities could include events to promote employee engagement. Wellness committees should document and track these initiatives so they can evaluate their effectiveness.
Provide Support Groups
If you notice a trend of poor mental health and wellness in your workplace, or if a suicide has occurred, support groups can provide a safe place for workers to discuss their feelings and receive support from others who may be experiencing similar feelings. Findings from a 2018 study by the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that “acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.”
If employees are not comfortable discussing these topics with their co-workers, you may direct them to community-sponsored support groups by communicating information about these groups through a shared resource such as a bulletin board or email. This can help guide employees who may need additional assistance or medical intervention to confidentially access the resources they need.
Help Employees Achieve a Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a work-life balance is a challenge for many workers and it’s a concern that employers should address. A 2017 study found that a healthy work-life balance may help reduce stress and increase job satisfaction, performance and productivity. You can help workers improve this balance by implementing benefits such as flexible work options, telecommuting and allowing time for fitness activities.
You can also encourage employees to take advantage of paid time off and to take breaks throughout the day. Integrating these benefits into organizational policies and programs, as well as setting an example by adopting this type of lifestyle, further demonstrates your commitment to creating a work-life balance.
Raise Awareness of Warning Signs
Education is a key element of suicide prevention. It starts with training employees to recognize the warning signs and symptoms that someone may be contemplating suicide. These signs may include mood swings, social isolation, feeling of being a burden to others, a change in eating or sleeping habits and increased use of drugs or alcohol. Integrating education on these signs and symptoms into toolbox talks or existing safety training can help employees become more aware of behavioral changes that can signal emotional distress.
Use Your Employee Assistance Program
An employee assistance programs (EAP) is designed to help employees with personal issues and concerns. Integrating suicide prevention measures into your EAP can help your organization address mental health and wellness, provide access to mental health professionals or mental health advocates, develop a mental health support plan, raise awareness of warning signs and prevention strategies, and identify steps to intervene when someone is identified as having poor mental health or thoughts of suicide.
It is important to identify individuals within your EAP to lead different aspects of the plan, as well as any actions and activities undertaken to execute the plan. You should also continually monitor your EAP’s effectiveness and evaluate its efficiency against organizational and workforce needs. It’s also important to communicate the resources available to your workforce as well as action taken on any feedback received to make the program as effective as possible.
Read the complete version of “Workplace Suicide Prevention,” originally published in the September 2019 issue of Professional Safety. Want to receive a monthly subscription to Professional Safety, ASSP’s top-ranked benefit? Become an ASSP member.
Need Help or Know Someone Who Does?
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Both are free and confidential.
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