HOMECase Studies Union Pacific
U.S. Headquarters
Omaha, NE
Number of Employees
44,000
Industry
Transportation and Warehousing

Union Pacific

Addressing & Prioritizing Suicide Prevention at Union Pacific Railroad

Employers are becoming increasingly aware that suicide is costly to workplaces in both emotional and financial terms. The national cost of suicides and suicide attempts in the United States in 2013 is estimated to be $93.5 billion, with 97% of the cost due to lost productivity (Shepard, Gurewich, Lwin, Reed, & Silverman, 2015). Unfortunately, suicide rates are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in April 2016, that, after 14 years of steady decline, suicide rates in the United States have increased by 24% from 1999 to 2014 (Curtain, Warner, & Hedegaard, 2016). The age-adjusted rate for males was more than three times that for females.

In addition, the CDC recently released an analysis of suicide rates by industry (McIntosh et al., 2016). Among the 12,312 people in the study who died by suicide, 77% were men, with nearly one third occurring in three major occupational groups: (1) farming, fishing, and forestry; (2) construction and extraction; and (3) installation, maintenance, and repair. For women, the highest suicide rates occurred among (1) those in protective service occupations (e.g., law enforcement officers and firefighters), (2) those in the legal profession, and (3) healthcare practitioners and technical workers.

Recent issues of Mental Health Works have featured efforts to reduce suicides in the construction industry, one of the male-dominated industries identified in CDC’s analysis. Another male-dominated group, the railroad industry, is also addressing suicide prevention. Union Pacific (UP) Railroad sponsored a companywide suicide awareness campaign throughout the UP system on worldwide Suicide Prevention Day last fall.

Nearly 200 volunteers participated in UP’s campaign by making personal contacts with employees and providing educational materials to as many people as possible. The volunteers—part of teams called Peer Support and Operation Red Block—met colleagues as they came to or left work for the day on September 10, 2015. They distributed wallet-sized cards with information about suicide as well as key chains printed with the message, “Stay Connected.” The volunteers reached an estimate 10,000 employees on Suicide Prevention Day.

Mark Jones, director of UP’s employee assistance program (EAP), recently provided details about the campaign to InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com. Both Jones and Robert Turner, retired senior vice president of corporate relations, serve on the board of directors for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Alliance points out that while suicide rates have been falling among senior adults, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for adults 25 to 34 years of age, considered prime working years (National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, 2014).

In 2014, the Alliance convened a meeting between railroad executives and suicide prevention experts to discuss what is known about effective suicide prevention measures and how the railroad industry might contribute to reducing the overall societal toll of suicide. These experts suggested that, in addition to understanding the scope of the problem, the railroad industry should consider risk and protective factors and develop and test intervention programs. In their summary report, they suggest that suicide prevention messages should include stories of coping and resiliency, program successes, positive actions people can take, and available resources.

Other experts in suicide prevention suggest that improvements in continuity of care for people who make nonfatal attempts at suicide would reduce the number of subsequent attempts (Shepard et al., 2015). These researchers estimate a cost-benefit ratio of 1 to 6 for investments in supporting these persons through enhanced medical, counseling, and care linkage services.

Jones hopes that UP will communicate with employees each September on Suicide Prevention Day to provide messages of hope and caring and to communicate how to access resources available through the EAP. He says that five major railway companies are planning an industrywide summit for suicide prevention to address suicide reduction for both the workforce and for the general public.

Employer Takeaways

  • Learn about suicide rates and risk factors unique to your industry.

  • Communicate about suicide prevention and resources for coping in your workplace (see “ Resources” below).

  • Provide access to quality treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

  • Partner with other employers and suicide prevention experts in your area to raise awareness in your community and to advocate for improved continuity of care.

  • Advocate for improvements in continuity of care for people who exhibit suicidal behaviors.

Risk Factors for Suicide

  • Mood and/or substance abuse disorders

  • Medical conditions/pain

  • Suicide bereavement (e.g., negative health and social outcomes among friends and family left behind, including increased risk of suicide)

  • Relationship conflict

  • Access to lethal means

  • Unsafe media portrayals (e.g., overly detailed, glamorous, or sensationalized coverage of suicides)

Protective Factors

  • Coping skills

  • Social support

  • Connectedness (e.g., to schools, work, spiritual organizations, or other social institutions)

  • Effective mental health care

  • Available crisis and follow-up care

Veterans, particularly non-deployed veterans, have higher rates of suicide compared with the general population. Employers can play an important role in the successful employment of veterans.

Union Pacific was ranked number two on the 2016 “Best for Vets” list by Military Times magazine. Union Pacific was the only transportation company selected among the 75 included companies. Rankings are based on recruiting, mentoring, on-the-job training, and spouse employment. “Military veterans are a great fit for Union Pacific because of their focus on safety, proven leadership skills and experience working in challenging environments,” said Sherrye Hutcherson, Union Pacific's vice president of human resources.

About Union Pacific

Union Pacific Railroad connects 23 states in the western two thirds of the country by rail, providing a critical link in the global supply chain. With more than 44,000 employees, Union Pacific serves its roughly 10,000 customers in many of the fastest growing U.S. population centers, operating from all major West Coast and Gulf Coast ports to eastern gateways, connecting with Canada's rail systems, and serving all six major Mexico gateways.


Resources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

American Association of Suicidology

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Working Minds

Nancy Spangler, PhD, OTR/L is a consultant to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

Last Updated: August 2016

Contact Company Representative

Mark Jones, director, employee assistance program, Union Pacific Railroad
mrjones@up.com

References

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