Three things you need to know:

  • Between 2020-2021, 12.3% of U.S. deaths were caused by unintentional injuries including drug overdoses;
  • “There are an estimated 10 to 12 suicides among construction workers” every day; and
  • Given low U.S. unemployment, a critical aspect of employee retention is embracing a corporate culture of care.

U.S. life expectancy

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped in large part because of unintentional injuries to include drug overdoses, and a rising number of suicides. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in December 2022 that “the death rate for the entire U.S. population increased by 5.3% from 835.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020 to 879.7 in 2021. As a result, life expectancy at birth for the U.S. population decreased from 77 years in 2020 to 76.4 years in 2021.” 22.5% of U.S. deaths were caused by COVID-19, while 12.3% for unintentional injuries to include drug overdoses hence, showing increases between 2020-2021 for both causes.

Leading Cause of Death graphGraph courtesy of National Center for Health Statistics.


Deaths from synthetic opioids have grown

The CDC reported that “from 2020 through 2021, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths for males increased 14% from 39.5 to 45.1, and the rate for females increased 15% from 17.1 to 19.6.” Those between the ages of 35-44 (62.0 per 100,000) saw the highest overdose deaths. Deaths from synthetic opioids (like fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol) other than methadone have grown over the last 10 years — representing seven out of every 10 overdose deaths according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS).

Overdose Deaths graphGraph courtesy of National Center for Health Statistics.


Opioid Deaths graphGraph courtesy of National Center for Health Statistics.


The NCDAS reported that over one million people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. “The national OD rate is 21.6 deaths per 100,000 residents.”

Death by suicide

The CDC also reported that in 2020, there was a suicide every 11 minutes. For every suicide in the U.S., there were 275 people considering suicide and 27 self-reported suicide attempts. The CDC noted that while males make up 49% of the population, they account for nearly 80% of suicides. In 2016, “Construction and extraction;” and “installation, maintenance, and repair” were listed as the highest of six major occupational groups with higher suicide rates than National Violent Death Reporting System data. The occupational groups with higher suicide rates are ranked as follows:

  1. Construction and Extraction (males and females);
  2. Installation, Maintenance, and Repair (males);
  3. Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media (males);
  4. Transportation and Material Moving (males and females);
  5. Protective Service (females); and
  6. Healthcare Support (females).

According to the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP), “there are approximately three jobsite fatalities in construction every day and an estimated 10 to 12 suicides among construction workers,” and hence, CIASP strongly suggests that suicide prevention is just as important as job safety. “The macho, tough guy, and stoic nature of construction workers can even discourage those who are most at risk for suicide from seeking help.” Employers must embrace a corporate culture of care that promotes wellness programs and provides a safe place for employees to seek help when they need it without fear. Programs like these can also help retain employees.

Low unemployment driving employee retention

Employee retention is a critical key to contractor’s business success given historically low U.S. unemployment at 3.5%, and continued difficulty in filling plumbing and HVAC positions — with only one of four positions being filled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects “48,600 openings for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters” and “40,100 openings for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers on average each year” through 2031. During a recent webinar, On The Razor’s Edge — Will the U.S. economy enter recession and how will construction starts respond in 2023, Dodge Construction Network’s Chief Economist, Richard Branch anticipates a continued skilled labor shortage into 2023 and hence, contractors may not elect to layoff workers who they feel they cannot get back later.

Unemployment Rate 2022Image courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


What can contractors do?

CIASP noted that “safety starts with what is under the hardhat.” Consider hosting a mental-health-focused speaker for a safety meeting — and especially during Construction Safety Week on May 1-5, 2023. Greg Sizemore, vice president of health, safety and environment for Associated Builders and Contractors, was quoted in a September 2022 article saying, “I’m going to take action to build an organization based on a culture of making sure that not only you but your family has access to the things that are going to make you not just physically safe but mentally healthy, too.”

Someone once said that “suicide is not so much the desire to die, as it is the fear of living.” The CDC recommends eight strategies to help prevent suicide by:

  • Promoting help-seeking behavior, especially for mental health and substance misuse care;
  • Integrating workplace health and safety and wellness programs to advance the overall well-being of workers;
  • Referring workers to financial and other helping services;
  • Facilitating time off and benefits to cover supportive services;
  • Training personnel to detect and appropriately respond to suicide risk;
  • Creating opportunities for employee social connectedness;
  • Reducing access to lethal means among persons at risk; and
  • Creating a crisis response plan sensitive to the needs of co-workers, friends, family, and others who might also be at risk.

CIASP noted that “safety starts with what is under the hardhat.” Consider hosting a mental-health-focused speaker for a safety meeting — and especially during Construction Safety Week on May 1-5, 2023.

Leverage resources for contractors:

TV host Phil Donahue noted that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Contractors can encourage struggling employees to:

  • Call or text 988 or chat for 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Call this confidential national hotline to find out about treatment options near you 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go online at

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