Suicide- Do Caribbean Businesses Have A Responsibility For Prevention

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There is a common belief throughout the Caribbean region that if someone wants to commit suicide, they will find a way to do it, even if it is at their job or someone else’s business place.
But is it possible however, that at some future date, a bereaved family member could sue a business on the basis that they could have prevented the person from committing suicide?
Even without the possibility of a lawsuit, which business wants the negative publicity of someone committing suicide on their premises?
In addition, dealing with the aftermath of a suicide can be considerable and would involve; blocking off the area where the suicide occurred, dealing with the police, having to clean up the affected area, providing counseling for employees or other persons on the premises who witnessed the suicide, providing medical assistance to anyone who might have been injured during the suicide, maybe having to go to court if there is a coroner’s inquest and if it is in a hotel possibly having to provide rebates to guests who witnessed the suicide, along with the negative publicity.
Suicide on a Company’s premises is therefore clearly a potential issue that all businesses should address, with the focus being on suicide prevention. Within the overall issue of suicide prevention there are however two issues to address; persons who use a business place to commit their act of suicide and employees who commit suicide and the claim that they were driven to it by their job. The first issue is clearly a security issue and dealing with this begins with a security assessment that recognizes that suicide on premises is a potential risk.
There are several means by which people commit suicide with the most common in the Caribbean being the ingestion of a poisonous substance, by hanging or by jumping from a high location. Other methods used, though less common in the Caribbean include, willful drug overdose, carbon monoxide poisoning from car exhausts, purposely inhaling fumes from an oven that is on, slitting of wrists and shooting one’s self.
According to the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England 2006, “research has indicated that the likelihood of taking one’s life will depend to some extent on the ease of access to, and knowledge of, effective means. One reason is that suicidal behavior is sometimes impulsive so that if a lethal method is not immediately available a suicidal act can be prevented”. Consequently, any suicide prevention strategy for a business in the Caribbean must take cognizance of the methods used for committing suicide and then identify systems to prevent it without impairing the overall operation of the business.
Clearly where a business uses poisonous substances in their daily operation, the business must have operational procedures in place that ensure that access to these substances are controlled and only allowed to persons to who have a legitimate need to use these substances. The procedures must however go beyond simply being written procedures but be actively enforced. Too often in the Caribbean, we see where an area is supposed to be kept locked and instead the area is left open sometimes with the keys hanging in the lock, simply because the person in charge finds it too onerous to have to repeatedly get up and open then close the area. The excuse that is sometimes given is that “I am sitting here near to the entrance so I can see who goes to the entrance”. While that may sound plausible, is the person really looking at the entrance all the time or are they periodically distracted by telephone calls or persons coming to speak with them?
Recognizing that jumping from high places is another common method of suicide; businesses need to consider how they can limit the access to these high places. The most obvious conclusion would be to simply ensure that the doors leading to rooftops or high ledges are always kept locked. However, while it might seem both obvious and suicide-preventative to lock exits to high ledges or seal doors to some hallways, it may not be allowable under certain fire and safety codes.
As a result, other options should be explored. Many years ago, I was staying in a hotel in Germany and noticed that outside all the windows was mesh netting. Upon enquiry I was told it was to stop persons from jumping out the windows in a suicide attempt. Now this netting gave the hotel exterior an appearance of being encased in a giant fish net. Since that time hotel designers have developed more aesthetically pleasing suicide prevention devices. Among these are artistic metal bars and also angled nets below windows that are based on the premise that you cannot jump far enough outward to escape being caught by the net. Some international hotels now seal the windows to all guest rooms so that they cannot be opened or only allow windows to be opened by several inches so fresh air can enter but a person cannot jump out.
Any suicide prevention strategies for a business must include staff awareness through education. Staff ought to be taught what the potential signs to look for are and then what action to take. Very often companies train their staff to alert for various things and then tell them to inform their supervisor. The poor supervisor, however, has no idea of what to do when staff comes to them with the concern. Any training therefore must also extend to providing supervisors and managers with clear guidelines on actions to take.

About the Author
Brian Ramsey has a B.A. in Accounting & Management, along with an M.B.A. in Finance and over 29 years in the Caribbean security field. He is the Regional Development Director for Amalgamated Security Services Limited which operates in Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. He can be contacted at bramsey@assl.com.

Article Categories:
Columns · Health · Issue 24 · Publication · Security · Social Issues

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