UK Politics

'Safer buildings' among proposals to prevent suicides

San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge
Image caption Signs on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge say the "consequences of jumping are fatal and tragic"

Multi-storey car parks, bridges and tall buildings could be designed to make suicide more difficult, under government proposals to save lives.

Staff in Jobcentres, banks, building societies and utility companies in England could also be trained to spot - and counsel - vulnerable people.

The ideas are raised in a consultation paper on suicide prevention.

The Samaritans said councils should have a mandatory responsibility to try to prevent suicides in their areas.

Some 4,400 people killed themselves in England in 2009.

Barriers or nets

Claire Wylie, head of policy and research at the Samaritans, told the BBC News website that many suicide attempts were made on impulse, so trying to restrict access to potentially lethal means was important.

"We know that people who are feeling suicidal are often very ambivalent about actually ending their lives," she said.

"If you can interrupt them at that moment you can prevent them going ahead."

Preventing deaths by jumping is a key aim of the consultation and it suggests a number of ways of doing that.

They include:

  • installing barriers or nets on bridges, including motorway bridges, from which suicidal jumps have been made, and providing emergency helpline numbers at notorious spots
  • encouraging councils and developers to consider suicide risk when designing multi-storey car parks, bridges and high-rise buildings
  • restricting access to windows and balconies in hospitals or other care settings
  • improving training for railway staff to help them persuade anyone contemplating suicide not to do so.

Overall, the number of suicides has steadily fallen in recent years, but the number of deaths on Britain's rail network had been rising until last year.

However, specialist training from Samaritans for rail staff was key to an 11% fall in 2010, according to the Rail Safety and Standards Board.

London Underground is also rolling out training to all of its staff after a pilot project at one station close to a psychiatric inpatient unit helped reduce suicides.

The government wants to see that sort of training given to a much wider range of people who come into contact with individuals who could be vulnerable because of their social or economic circumstances.

Jobcentre and benefit office staff, as well as employees in banks, building societies and utility firms are among those suggested in the consultation.

Ms Wylie said: "More training for all frontline staff is really important, but that needs investment and money is tight.

"In general, we really welcome the government's strategy, but there needs to be a lot more actual commitment to action.

"There's also an issue about local implementation because things like putting up signs and barriers depend on the individual local authority actually caring about suicide prevention.

"We would like to see a mandatory responsibility placed on local authorities to take this seriously."

The consultation closes on 11 October.

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