Updated: Jun 20
As I have shared before, I am a third-generation construction professional. When my dad was in the industry, grabbing a beer after work was commonplace. Let's be real, it still is today, right?! The biggest difference between now and then is where that beer takes place - on the jobsite or at a nearby bar.
Since leaving the high school health classroom, most of us have rarely had the opportunity to learn about and discuss the health consequences of drinking alcohol. Alcohol is ubiquitous, with advertisements inundating our airwaves, skyline, and language; the verb “drinking” is synonymous with consuming alcohol - the universality of alcohol obscures its harm. According to the CDC, alcohol contributes to more than 140,000 deaths in the US each year. The Oregon Health Authority reports that excessive drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death and is responsible for over 2,000 deaths annually.
For this post, I want to focus on the profound impact alcohol has on the construction industry because, as the daughter of a sheetmetal worker, I have seen the unique challenges alcohol poses to the industry.
As the outreach coordinator for The Construction Suicide Prevention Partnership (CSPP), a Lines for Life program, I am part of a national movement to address the high suicide rate in the construction industry. To reduce suicides in construction, we need to talk about alcohol. This is why CSPP has teamed up with Rethink the Drink, an initiative by the Oregon Health Authority. Rethink the Drink aims to decrease excessive drinking and the harm it causes individuals, families, and communities throughout our state.
The construction industry has the second-highest suicide rate among all other occupations. While there are many risk factors, ranging from irregular hours, a traveling workforce, and physical injury, that factor into the high rate of suicide in the construction industry, alcohol misuse is the shiny untapped keg in the room.
The connection between alcohol and suicide is well established. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates that over 20% of deaths by suicide involve alcohol intoxication. Suicide prevention efforts must account for how drinking habits shape behavioral patterns.
Here is how alcohol impacts the construction community:
the construction workforce has the second highest rates of heavy alcohol use in the past month.
In 2020, the National Institute of Health released a study of binge drinking by occupation that found construction and extraction workers had the highest rate of binge drinking. Alcohol misuse undermines construction’s safety culture because showing up hungover or drunk puts everybody at risk at the worksite.
Through our partnership with Rethink the Drink, we have developed tools and resources to address alcohol misuse in the construction industry. We do this work because we want to improve our services by supporting construction professionals to live longer and healthier lives. You can check out our Rethink the Drink resources here.
Conversations about our use of and relationship with alcohol should be as universal as their advertising. Alcohol is a complex issue to discuss, which is why we have developed tools to help the industry start the conversation. Every day, the construction community tackles tough jobs with preparation and grit; it is time to bring that mindset to talking about alcohol.