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.

Customers show us the love during COVID-19

BWC’s economic, health and safety initiatives draw high praise

By Winnie Warren, BWC Interim Chief of Employer Services

Working for the state of Ohio, we all know our job is to serve our fellow Ohioans and hopefully make a positive difference in their lives, so it’s gratifying when our colleagues and leaders take note — an email or video message from Administrator Stephanie McCloud, for instance, or a nod from Governor Mike DeWine at his daily press briefings.

But it’s doubly rewarding when the people you serve reach out and thank you themselves. We’ve received many emails, phone calls and social media posts in recent weeks praising our efforts to help business owners through the COVID-19 pandemic. One call in particular stands out. It was from Heather Baines, the founder and president of HR Construction Services LLC in Cleveland.

Heather Baines, founder and president, HR Construction Services in Cleveland

Heather wanted to personally thank us for two things — a check she received in late April for $9,450, her company’s share of the $1.6 billion dividend we sent to Ohio employers to ease the impact of COVID-19 on their bottom line. She also appreciated the box of 50 face coverings we sent her as part of our Protecting Ohio’s Workforce – We’ve got you covered initiative.

She said both were blessings at a critical time.

“Between the financial help and the masks, it almost made me want to cry because it shows I’m not forgotten,” Heather said. “There have been some terrible days – days where I questioned, ‘What am I doing and why am I still doing this?’”

Heather told me about her business, that all the reasons she started her company — to hire local contractors and bring diversity to jobsites in her hometown while growing a minority-owned business — were coming to fruition. Then the pandemic hit and made a mess of everything.

Getting that check from BWC meant everything, she said. It meant she could pay her workers, her office rent, purchase jobsite materials and fund her employees’ benefits. (Nearly 200,000 Ohio employers received a dividend, which roughly equaled their entire BWC premium in policy year 2018.)

“We’re still new in the construction industry, so paying on time is huge for me,” said Heather, who founded her company in 2015. “That’s a great reputation to have. The money goes out as quick as it comes in, but that check was tremendous and made a big difference.”

The face coverings were another godsend, she said. In late May we started sending at least 2 million face coverings to employers across the state to weaken COVID-19’s spread. We’re not billing employers for this initiative. At less than a dollar a piece, we’re picking up the tab from this year’s budget.

Heather told me her employees had been wearing disposable masks that cost her up to $5 a piece, and they were using the same one on multiple days because supply was hard to find. Her neighbor, who was making masks for health care workers, made some for Heather’s employees, too. Then BWC’s shipment arrived.

“It meant a whole lot that my company was a part of the distribution,” she said. “So often things are given to larger companies, and it’s the smaller ones that can really use the help.”

Thank you to Heather for sharing her story. We’re so glad our mission and agency values of providing superior customer service show up in a myriad of ways. We’re proud to serve Ohioans every day, but especially in their greatest time of need.

Crew members of HR Construction Services in Cleveland wear face coverings provided by BWC while working on an overpass in Cleveland.