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When work kills

Sarah Waters (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Marina Karanikolos (European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, London, UK) (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK)
Martin McKee (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 19 December 2016




The purpose of this paper is to examine the rising public health phenomenon of workplace suicide drawing on comparative insights from the French and UK contexts. France has experienced what the media describes as a “suicide epidemic” in the workplace, with rising numbers of employees choosing to kill themselves in the face of extreme pressures at work.


The paper uses a comparative approach drawing on insights from the French context, in which workplace suicide is legally and officially recognised, to shed critical light on the UK context where workplace suicide remains a hidden phenomenon.


Whilst in France, workplace suicide is treated as an urgent public health phenomenon and data on suicides are collected centrally, in the UK, despite a deterioration in working conditions, suicide is not recognised in legislation and data are not collected centrally. Unless society recognises and document rising workplace suicides, we will be unable to deal with their profound human consequences for suicidal individuals, their families and society more widely.

Research limitations/implications

Research on workplace suicides in the UK and many other national contexts is hampered by fragmentary statistical data on this phenomenon.

Practical implications

The paper calls for greater recognition, analysis and monitoring of workplace suicide in the UK. Suicide should be included in the list of workplace accidents that are reported to the authorities for further investigation. In a context where workplace conditions are deteriorating, society need to recognises the profound human costs of these conditions for the individual employee.

Social implications

The paper has important implications for the contemporary workplace in terms of the contractual relationship between employer and employee.


Workplace suicide is an urgent, yet under-researched phenomenon. The paper brings a comparative and multidisciplinary perspective to bear on this phenomenon.



Waters, S., Karanikolos, M. and McKee, M. (2016), "When work kills", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 229-234.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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