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De Novo, Ontario Building Trades seek firsthand answers to addiction, suicide in the industry

Angela Gismondi
De Novo, Ontario Building Trades seek firsthand answers to addiction, suicide in the industry

It’s no secret that the building trades in Ontario have been plagued by high suicide and addiction rates, but a research project headed up by the De Novo Treatment Centre is looking to find out why.

“I’ve been at De Novo for 14 years and I’ve always been curious as to why suicide and addiction has always been more prevalent in the construction industry,” said Aaron Sinclair, a registered psychotherapist and executive director at the centre.

“As the sole addiction treatment centre to the construction and building trades of Ontario, we wanted to investigate the drivers behind the high numbers of suicide and addiction. With this data we hope to provide resources and education to help address these root concerns.”

The De Novo Research Project, a partnership between the centre, the Provincial Building Trades Council of Ontario and the Ontario Erectors Association, is funded by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. The goal of the project is to identify the driving and triggering factors behind these issues and to address them with programs.

A survey is underway and more participants from the building trades in the province are needed to participate.


Searching for the root of the problem

Patrick Dillon, chair of the De Novo board of directors and the business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, learned about the funding opportunity through the Skills Development Fund. He contacted Sinclair to discuss the possibility of conducting a research project.

“We came up with the idea to focus on why is it that one in three opioid deaths are individuals who work in the trades? Why is it that suicide rates seem to be the highest in the construction industry out of all the industries?” Sinclair said. “If we can figure out what are some of the contributing factors to this and how can we address some of these issues so the lives of tradespeople can be improved.”

De Novo is a substance abuse treatment service located in Huntsville and is operated as a partnership between management and unionized members of Ontario’s construction and building trades.  

“De Novo started because unions identified that there was an issue with substance abuse in the trades and there was a need for treatment services,” Sinclair pointed out.


More participation needed

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete. Responses are anonymous and confidential. To date, about 1,000 surveys have been completed but organizers are looking for more engagement.

“We’ve now gone full throttle with the research project. We’re in the middle of surveying,” Sinclair explained. “The surveys are going to members in the unionized construction trades industry, the leadership people in the industry as well as past clients of De Novo.

“We have about 80 contributing union locals into De Novo and that includes employer associations,” he added. “They have all been informed of the project and we attempted to recruit all of them. We’ve heard from about 17 that are now active in the research project.”

Questions touch on personal factors such as history of substance use, mental and physical health, work history and open-ended questions to illicit broader conversations, Sinclair explained.

“The more participation we have, the more accurate the outcomes will be,” he noted. “The project itself benefits the tradeworkers, employers and the family members as a whole by potentially shining a light onto the issues we are seeing. The more we can learn about the issues of addiction and suicide in the trades, the better we can support the individuals and work toward saving lives.”


Survey outcome will inform new training programs

The hope is to work collaboratively to address the issues more effectively.

“We can potentially develop training tools for training centres, unions and employers to better understand and address these issues,” said Sinclair. “From there, develop a report to help address this systemic issue, improve the productivity and quality of life of skilled tradespeople, and to have better outcomes for employer partners who need a healthy workforce.”

Dillon said while addiction treatment is important, so is the prevention side and “looking at the causation factors for addiction and mental health that can lead to suicide.”

For example, falls from heights is a problem in the industry that causes injury and death and there is training in place for that. The same should be done for addiction and mental health, he said.

“At the end of the day we want to put together a training program so that anyone can use it,” Dillon said. “They can use it as an educational piece for youth coming into the trades.”

The deadline to complete the survey is July 25. To participate contact Grace Tiersma at or by calling 1-800-933-6686.

The Daily Commercial News will be exploring the issue of substance abuse with an emphasis on opioid addiction in the construction industry in an upcoming in-depth series that will feature multiple layers and reports. Watch for our coverage.


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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