US Workplace Suicides Increase by 28 Percent

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 23 2009 11:03 AM

The financial meltdown is taking its toll on the workplace, where the US Labor Department found a record 28 percent rise in suicide rates last year amid widespread layoffs and overall belt-tightening.

Amid the economic fallout, 251 people committed suicide at the workplace in 2008, the highest figure since the agency's Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting.

The startling number came as the agency reported Thursday a 10 percent drop in the total number of people who died on the job, from 5,657 in 2008 to 5,071 last year, the lowest number since it first began recording the figures in 1992.

Labor Department officials did not explain the rise in suicides but pointed to the economic downturn as contributing to the lower overall death rate, with the housing crash leading the construction industry, which usually accounts for most workplace deaths, to record major employment and work hour reductions.

Workers on average worked one percent less hours nationwide, the agency said.

Fatal work injuries in the construction sector fell 20 percent. The only age category that did not see a decrease in deaths at work was among 16 and 17-year-old workers, rising from 20 in 2007 to 23 last year.

Another decline came in workplace homicides, which dropped 18 percent. The total of 517 homicides, most by shooting, was a 52 percent drop from the high of 1,080 killings reported in 1994.

The decline in fatal work injuries, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said, was a "change in the right direction," but she cautioned that strong safety enforcement remained key to prevent such incidents.

"In fact, today's report prompts us to step up our vigilance, particularly as the economy regains momentum," she added in a statement.

Several other studies have shown the psychological impact of the economic recession on the US population.

Over a third of US homeowners going through foreclosure suffered from severe depression, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine published Tuesday.

More than 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the United States, where suicide is the second highest cause of death for men aged 25 to 34.

The Labor Department report was based on preliminary data for 2008. A final report with revised figures is due out in April.