Compliance

Workplace suicide has been on the rise—here’s how OSHA, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and HR can help

“It’s going to take a lot of resources. But at the end of the day, what we can’t lose sight of is the fact that what we’re trying to do is save lives,” said one suicide-prevention researcher.
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· 4 min read

A Kroger worker, a Facebook employee, an Activision Blizzard finance manager. They are among the American workers who have died by suicide due to work-related events. Though suicide is complex and rarely attributable to a singular event, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, which counts workplace fatalities for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), considers a suicide a workplace suicide if it occurred on the premises, while performing work-related duties, or can be “definitively linked back to work.”

Workplace suicides have been on the rise, up 50% since the BLS began tracking in 1992, even as total workplace deaths have declined. Earlier this month, OSHA and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) announced a two-year alliance intended to help prevent employee suicides. Here’s what people pros need to know.

What it is. The goal is to reduce the rate of workplace suicides through awareness. As a first step, the alliance will use social media, newsletters, and in-person events to raise awareness, as well as distribute workplace posters to HR departments across the country. AFSP will also provide employers with employee health and well-being guidance and update OSHA’s web page on preventing suicide, among other things, during the program’s first year.

What it’s not. HR departments have full discretion over whether they display posters, promote guidance, or incorporate the suggested training into their people processes, so the guidance is just that—guidance. Participation is not mandatory.

What now? HR can work to foster an environment that prevents suicide, even when an employee’s issues are not workplace-related. Kayla Follmer, an assistant professor and suicide-prevention researcher at West Virginia University, believes that if nothing else, a partnership between OSHA and AFSP demonstrates that suicide prevention is a workplace issue, and an HR issue—something she has discovered in her yearslong research.

Though HR teams aren’t legally obligated to implement or enhance their suicide-prevention training, Follmer hopes they’ll consider following what seem to be best practices for combatting workplace suicide, according to her findings.

  • Create connection. Foster a culture of belonging by creating mentorship programs and encouraging managers to have regular one-on-ones with staff. In remote-work settings, Follmer said, it’s particularly important to give employees individualized attention and opportunities to share feedback.
  • Look for risk, but don’t diagnose. HR professionals aren’t doctors, but when employees are faced with significant stressors, like economic uncertainty or layoffs (or even the possibility of layoffs), Follmer recommends that workers be referred to employee assistance programs.
  • Offer plans that are personalized. Employees, Follmer said, come from all walks of life—workforces span cultures and generations, and include those who may not be comfortable discussing mental health at work. It might make sense, she said, to have ERGs tailor their messaging around mental health toward different employee populations.
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The task at hand is complex, she explained, and will take “a lot of work” to get right.

“It’s going to take a lot of resources. But at the end of the day, what we can’t lose sight of is the fact that what we’re trying to do is save lives,” Follmer said. “It’s really hard to put a dollar value on that.”—SV

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SusannaVogel1 on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Susanna for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.