Reducing Access to Lethal Means


A lethal mean refers to a method in which one uses to attempt suicide. The term “lethal” is important because some methods are more harmful or destructive than others. For example, if someone chooses a firearm to end their life, the act is quick and almost always irreversible. Conversely, other methods like pills or inhalation of harmful chemicals allow for more time to reconsider or to be saved during an attempt.

Common lethal means in the workplace include firearms (law enforcement and security services), pills or lethal drugs (health care), sharp objects, poisons/detergents (agriculture), access to high places, ropes/cords/cables, and heavy duty equipment (construction). Employers should consider how they will address access to lethal objects or equipment in the workplace when a member of the workforce has been identified as at-risk for suicide. . 

Reducing Lethal Means

It’s important to take safety precautions to limit the accessibility of lethal means in the physical environment. Here’s what your company can do to promote lethal means reduction:

  • Provide employees with help-seeking resources. Be sure to communicate several different ways an employee can reach out if they are feeling suicidal. A vetted list of resources can be found here
  • Training. Your company can hold a training for upper management to assess and address potential threats in your workplace. If you believe this is necessary for your company, complete the training request form.  
  • Educate leadership about lethal means reduction. The National Action Alliance has developed a list of strategies to reduce access to specific types of lethal means. The guide is intended for industry leadership and includes information about research related to means reduction.  
  • Educate your employees directly about lethal means reduction. Harvard’s school of Public Health promotes the Means Matter campaign which has useful information for family members to protect a loved one who may be suicidal. You can access and use this information for free.
  • Ask your EAP about Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM) and if they have trained clinicians that can provide this service. Therapists or clinicians with CALM training can help people identify when they may need extra help avoiding means of suicide.

Draft an Access to Lethal Means Policy

Companies should have a policy on lethal means reduction. This is especially of high importance for fields that have routine exposure to trauma coupled with access to lethal means like medical personnel, law enforcement, and construction. Company policy will look different for different industries, but in general, a lethal means policy should include two main protocols for when an employee has been identified as at risk of suicide:  

  1. a conversation around access to lethal means should take place and
  2. a plan of action should be created.

Level of risk should be considered when developing a plan of action. 

Need Help? 

If you are unsure about the physical environment of your workplace, you may request a training to identify and limit access to lethal means. Training would include:

  • How to ask about what lethal means are available/accessible;
  • What safety precautions can be created to reduce access to them in times of crisis;
  • Who else should be informed of safe storage of lethal means, monitoring of lethal means, and addressing issues of restriction of rights vs. ensuring safety; and 
  • Education on the level of risk based on lethality.

A key component to this training is addressing supervisor biases and opinions relative to the methods being discussed, as research on attitudes in these conversations suggests that biases toward or against having these conversations makes a difference in the outcome of the conversations. Another issue addressed is inquiring about lethal means not yet purchased, but considered and/or planned.