Suicide Prevention: Don’t be too tough to talk about it

By Mona Weiss, Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

If you’ve never experienced a late-night emergency phone call, I can tell you from my experience, over twenty years ago, it’s something one won’t soon forget. Sadly, we’ve all likely had at least one of “those kinds of calls.” Mine came from my mother, almost exactly 20 years ago today. The shaking in her voice came through on the crackling landline, “we’re at the hospital. It’s bad, Mona. Ryan has shot himself.”

Ryan was my 22-year-old nephew. I’d changed his diapers. Swung him on a swing. Watched him breathe life into dead engines when he was but 14. Ryan had gone on to become a star football player in high school and was closely watched by university recruiters. How could we have known then that Ryan’s glorious days of reliably making touchdowns were going to be some of his last? If only we’d had a crystal ball…

Fast forward to last fall, when the topic of suicide was brought up by Greg Burkhart, Director of Safety and Training for the Associated General Contractors of Northwest Ohio (AGCNWO) at a monthly safety meeting. I instantly sat up taller in my chair. Are we really going to talk about this? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 20 years since Ryan’s death, it’s that it’s taboo to talk about this! Team Chair Burkhart said that suicide statistics in construction had been covered at their national conference, and that the AGCNWO was looking at forming a committee to develop suicide-related support and resources for the local construction community.  No voluntold necessary! I leaped right in!

The AGCNWO generously provided all resources, the team chair, and the forum within which our team was to work. They also reallocated time from their in-house marketing expert to develop a logo, website, content, print, and more to help spread the word. Our first mission was to lay out the basics. We faced a few challenges: 

  • Name the campaign in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience.
  • Identify and learn to target those who have the most influence on possible at-risk persons within the workforce (such as his or her supervisor).
  • Ensure we clarify that we are not a suicide prevention counseling service, but rather a collection of resources to assist those in need.
  • Most important how do we get the attention of the victim, a person who would generally like to avoid this topic? Through his or her supervisor? Maybe his or her family? Remember, it’s “taboo to talk about!” 

As we brainstormed, we found the suicide victim numbers staggering! We learned that an estimated 5,500 construction workers take their lives annually, and that construction is the second-highest industry for suicides. Over the course of our project development, we grew hungry to learn more, and to uncover the mysteries behind the causes of suicide. In response, the AGCNWO secured some of the top experts in suicide and mental health as team meeting presenters.

These efforts resulted in the 2 Tuff 2 Talk campaign. In addition to the website, several electronic billboards with related messaging have been posted in the Toledo area. Hard hat stickers and larger signs for posting on employee message boards and at worksites will be released soon.

While suicide is perhaps not a pleasant topic, it’s especially important at this time of higher stress and changed working conditions. If you are among those who have lost a loved one to suicide, or if you know someone who seems to be in a difficult situation, even if they don’t work in the construction industry, you may find the resources below helpful. Meanwhile, I want to thank the AGCNWO for their passionate commitment to assisting in suicide prevention in the construction industry, and for sponsoring our team!

If you are having suicidal thoughts or feelings call 1-800-720-9616 for confidential support from a behavioral health professional.

Trench collapse survivor tells his story to save others

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

“It was pitch black,” Eric Giguere told a rapt audience at our 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo. “It was like I was hit by a truck going 70 mph.”

He was describing what it was like being buried alive under about 2,000 pounds of dirt in a trench that was six feet deep.

Giguere started the day, Oct. 4, 2002, looking forward to leaving for his honeymoon that afternoon; he ended the day on life support in the intensive care unit of an upstate New York hospital.

“I was 27 years old with a terrible attitude toward safety. I didn’t speak up about unsafe working conditions. I was OK with taking shortcuts,” he said. “That’s why I ended up buried in that trench.” But he wasn’t the only one taking shortcuts that day. His employer had Giguere and his colleagues working in a trench that was six feet deep without trench boxes and other safety measures.

“We got comfortable doing things the wrong way. For what? To cut corners. To save time,” he said. “Well, all it took was a split second to forever change my life and to put my co-workers in the horrible position of having to make a life-or-death decision to help save me.”

One of those co-workers used a backhoe to remove the top layer of dirt from the collapsed trench, knowing that if the bucket struck Giguere, it could kill him.

After 10 minutes of digging frantically by hand, his colleagues eventually uncovered his lifeless body. They began CPR even as he was partially buried. A life flight helicopter transported him to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.

His wife, who he had married just six days earlier, waited with family members as Giguere’s life hung in the balance. Doctors told them even if he survived, he would likely be severely brain damaged. He would make a miraculous recovery, but it was accompanied by recurring nightmares, fear of dark, enclosed spaces, and forgetfulness.

Cognitive and psychological therapy has helped him recover over time. These days, you’d never know from his outward appearance and demeanor that he suffered such a life-altering event. But it hasn’t been without hardship.

Ultimately, his marriage could not withstand the aftermath of the accident. “In some ways, the man that my wife had married less than a week before never came out of the bottom of that trench,” he said.

However, his second chance at life has given him the opportunity to influence the lives of others in a powerful way. He founded his own company, Safety Awareness Solutions, and he’s shared his story with thousands of workers in the U.S. and internationally with the goal of raising safety awareness.

“The chance to speak with others regarding my accident gives my life a great sense of fulfillment,” he says. “If you learn something and you don’t share it with somebody, it does no good to learn it. I want to share my story, as an average guy, to others in hopes that maybe they’ll realize I’m just like this guy. He did the same things I have done. Maybe I better not do that, or I could end up just like him.”

The BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

In addition, the following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Trench Stand Down focuses on keeping workers safe in trenches

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

In February 2020, a 34-year-old worker died when a trench he was working in collapsed in Licking County. In June 2020, a trench collapse killed two workers in Starkville, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, these tragic incidents are reminders of the potential dangers of trenching and excavation work. However, most trenching injuries and fatalities are preventable with proper training and safety equipment.

The 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 14-18 and sponsored by the National Utility Contractors Association, gives employers an opportunity to talk directly to their workforce and others about trenching and excavation hazards and to reinforce the importance of protecting workers from them.

The Trench Safety Stand Down encourages employers to take a break to have a toolbox talk or other safety activity to draw attention to the specific hazards related to working in and around trenches and excavations.

At BWC, we support the stand down and we’re strongly committed to preventing trenching accidents, which are often deadly. Our Trench Safety Grant is available to employers through our Ohio campaign, TrenchSafetyOhio.com, to increase awareness of the hazards of working in trenches and promote safe trenching work practices.

We realize it may be a challenge to conduct in-person events, but you can still share resources like our trench safety card (In English and Spanish) with your workers. You can also find additional resources and information on our Trench Safety Resources page. We’re hosting a virtual Trenching Safety Stand Down on June 15. During the event, you’ll learn how to identify trenching and excavation risk factors and ways to protect workers.

Additionally, the BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

Whether it’s watching a webinar, sharing videos or information online, or having a smaller event, following proper physical distancing protocols, we hope you’ll take part in the 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down.

The following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Real estate agent owes BWC over $151K after fraud conviction

A Columbus-area real estate agent and broker pleaded guilty to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a felony of the fourth degree.

David L. Garner, 66, worked from 2009 through 2018 as both a real estate agent selling homes, and as a real estate broker providing broker price opinions while receiving the Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) disability benefits. Evidence obtained during the investigation revealed Garner intentionally misrepresented and withheld this activity from BWC to collect disability benefits he otherwise would not have been entitled to.

On June 6, a Franklin County judge found Garner guilty and proceeded to sentencing. The judge placed Garner on community control for 3 years and ordered him to pay BWC $151,705.15. If Garner violates the terms of his community control, he is subject to a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.