It is the primary responsibility of architects and engineers to ensure buildings are functional. After that, they are faced with the task of making them culturally and contextually appropriate, aesthetically pleasing, and highly sustainable.
While these challenges may be great, they are also commonplace within the industry.
In few areas is the focus on safety more obvious than when implementing suicide prevention design measures. With quality of life and health and well-being rightly a major focus in modern society, suicide prevention and added safety measures through design measures is a growing sector that is nonetheless not free from controversy.
Certain critics say the kind of preventative measures used to suicide-proof buildings will simply “shift the problem”. Brisbane Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner expressed just such a concern regarding the implementation of protective barriers on the city’s Story Bridge after two tragic deaths occurred on the structure.
That opinion that is not limited to the Deputy Mayor; it has, in fact, been voiced across the world.
Similar sentiments were shared by critics of the officials at New York University (NYU) after the university installed Plexiglas barriers to their atrium areas after a spate of jumper suicides, and now plans to implement a cage system after initial measures failed to prevent yet another student from committing suicide.
While these arguments centre on the absurdity of the notion that a physical barrier at one location could stop the desperation of suicide, others are not quite so analytically focused.
There are certain critics who strongly disapprove of these kind of barriers, especially on public bridges – which more often than not stand as civic icons – due to the disruption this will cause to the structure’s aesthetic.
Thankfully this argument is given little heed by officials and industry leaders, not only for the decrease in suicide rates that these preventive measures cause, but as a means of protection for the public, who face severe trauma from witnessing these tragic events.
While the second may be given little heed by those in power, the first argument is. It is for this reason that a number of studies into the effectiveness of these design tools have been undertaken.
One such study, undertaken by Cantor and Hill, monitored both the Story and Gateway bridges. The researchers found that when potential suicides were stopped from jumping from one particular bridge, they did not automatically move on to the next bridge. In fact, the research revealed that the potential suicides did not seek out other places to jump at all.
While this is but one study and further studies show little or no decrease in suicide rates on bridges with added safety measures, this kind of data offers enough promise to urge governments and industry members to take action.
Safety at all costs is an industry reality, and while no industry, corporation or government is responsible for the actions of a suicidal individual, they have taken on the responsibility of protecting all citizens from self-harm using the best current technologies where realistic and feasible.
Whether or not this is the best solution, there is no arguing that it is highly proactive and commendable to say the least.