Bechtel brings awareness to suicide concern in construction field locally and nationally

Published 12:26 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

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Bechtel is known globally for building projects with a purpose.

Chairman and CEO Brendan Bechtel said company-built projects account for half of the LNG production capacity on the Gulf Coast and a third of total global capacity.

Worldwide the Bechtel Corporation has built and brought into operation 17 LNG trains in the last nine years, which industry leaders say is unprecedented.

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Bechtel will tell you this is the result of a one-team approach taken with customers, communities, elected officials and, most importantly, the company’s incredible talent.

Fostering that talent with a safe and inspiring work environment is key. Yet, safety, doesn’t start and end at the job site with procedure guidelines and tool checks.

It’s goes deeper and, unfortunately, uncovers a darker and often hushed aspect of the profession.

The construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates of any profession in the U.S.

The number of suicides in the industry is nearly five times higher than the number of lives lost in jobsite safety incidents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, respectively.

To combat that disturbing trend, Bechtel pledged a $7 million commitment to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to provide critical resources and programming to 500,000 U.S. construction workers over the next five years.

Effort leaders are working to make the partnership reach those construction workers over five years through industry-specific programs and resources developed by Bechtel and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

It is the largest-ever pledge received by AFSP and the largest single donation ever made by the Bechtel Group Foundation.

This is just the beginning, according to Bechtel leders.

What it means

Chairman and CEO Brendan Bechtel and Bechtel Energy President Paul Marsden took time when they were in Port Arthur for the Port Arthur LNG ground breaking to further explain this effort, its origins, and more importantly, the goals.

Bechtel has been contracted by Sempra Infrastructure to construct the Port Arthur LNG facility in Sabine Pass.

Port Arthur LNG is projected to create nearly 6,000 highly skilled jobs at peak construction, all in Port Arthur. It’s a world class facility construction that is going to come with unique demands and important construction landmarks.

This means Bechtel has created a project-specific mental health plan, a process that did not exist just a few years ago.

“When we were all coming up in the business, the people who had been site managers and project managers before us, who we all looked up to, all had these heart-wrenching stories of losing colleagues to industrial accidents on their site,” Bechtel recalls. “They would say, ‘make sure you never let that happen.’ Many of the people in Paul (Marsden) and I’s generation have had careers where that hasn’t happened. We’ve kept people physically safe because of what the industry has done over the last 30 years to improve physical safety.”

What is much more common, they say, for people of their generation is firsthand experience with colleagues who took their own lives.

Facing that challenge with proper support is needed

“It’s the very logical next frontier for us to go after,” Bechtel said. “It’s, frankly, been a little bit invisible until the last few years given the large focus on mental health.”

For years Bechtel leaders have taught mindfulness techniques on their projects.

This means realizing leaving the fight-or-flight part of your brain when on site and engaging the higher-rational-order-of-thinking part.

“Everybody has always thought, ‘it’s construction. It’s from the shoulders down,’” Bechtel shared. “Today, we need everything. We need everybody mindfully engaged in their work. It needs to be OK to say, ‘I am not OK.’ That is going to take a big shift in mindset in our industry. It is very much a hero, macho culture.”

Bechtel and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are starting with suicide prevention because the consequences are the most severe and dire.

They plan to quickly work upstream into mental health because of the precursors that lead to the factors that create a suicide.

The goal right now may be to save lives, but the long term goal is to improve lives.

How do you do it?

Marsden says one way is really understanding the cultural makeup of projects.

Port Arthur LNG is a little different to Corpus Christi or to Rio Grande, all of which are home or major Bechtel initiatives.

It has been a change in mindset, he said, for industry leaders to get to know everybody on the job and set up a leadership structure to break down “this really big elephant into much more manageable pieces where we can actually get to know each other.”

“When you stand there at a prestart meeting with a crew in the morning, if somebody is going to be handling a 9-inch angle grinder, are they in the right mental place that day?” Marsden asks.

“The only way you get to know it is to truly get to know our people and build a relationship structure and a culture that values that first. The reality is what we do is tough work, it’s difficult work. It is high risk, and we really do think the next bastion of driving construction safety is understanding how people show up in the morning. What’s their state of mental well being and being able to identify it, so we don’t put people in harm’s way.”

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes, The Port Arthur News and Greater Port Arthur The Magazine. He can be reached at or 409-721-2445.