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Safety Nets

Suicide is among the topics no one likes to talk about. As understandable as this taboo may seem, it is also short-sighted and ultimately irresponsible. Because unlike what most people might think, suicide is not a marginal social phenomenon, it is a frequently encountered problem that needs to be taken seriously. This fact can be impressively backed by just a few figures. In countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, many more lives are lost by suicide than by traffic accidents. In Switzerland, suicide is even the most frequent cause of death among men aged between 14 and 55.  According to statistical surveys conducted in this field, about ten percent of the population in the countries mentioned above seriously consider committing suicide at least once in their lives. This means that practically every person is sooner or later directly confronted with suicide by a relative, friend, or acquaintance.

It is a long-known and generally accepted fact that turning a blind eye to suicide and moral condemnation do not represent a solution to the problem. Varoius government organizations and social-welfare institutions have devoted their attention to this topic which is also a focus of the World Health Organization (WHO). The emphasis in their activities is on identifying causes and, derived from the findings, developing suitable suicide-prevention measures. The approaches are diversified and consequently, similar activities tend to be concurrent and parallel.

In the context of suicide prevention, structural measures play a significant role. The primary issue is to restrict the availability of certain suicide methods. One example is suicide by jumping from heights. In many countries, it is the method most often chosen by people to end their lives. In Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, about 10% of all suicide cases per year are attributable to such jumps. Statistics show that in Switzerland alone, 4664 individuals died this way between 1969 and 2001. The favored spots for jumps from great heights are tall buildings, especially monument-type structures, and tall bridges. Remarkably enough, there are specific structures around the world that seem to appeal especially to people determined to commit suicide. The identification of such locations – referred to as “hotspots” in the literature devoted to this topic – based on statistics is thus one of the first steps that must be taken to implement suitable protective measures.

As regards structures and particularly bridges, two basic types of protective measures must be distinguished: 1. The installation of a high railing that, even if it cannot totally prevent them, significantly discourages jumps from great heights. 2. The installation of safety nets that make fatal falls practically impossible and give suicidal persons the strong impression that jumping would be futile. Incidentally, both safety concepts – implemented individually or as a combination – not only help prevent acts of suicide but also reduce the occurrence of accidents caused by juvenile overconfidence and dangerous recklessness.

There can be no doubt as to the effectiveness and sustainability of professionally executed structural measures for suicide prevention. Scientific analyses in the USA have shown that a prevented suicide is also ultimately the life-saving event in the overwhelming majority of all documented cases. This statistical insight is supported by the psycho-medical finding that so-called suicide-inducing crises, those desperate moments during which an individual is determined to commit suicide, are absolutely exceptional situations that as a rule do not reoccur.

Structural suicide-prevention measures must always be carefully matched to the respective local circumstances. Regardless of the chosen protection approach, a material such as the Jakob Webnet is practically always a sensible option.  Extremely flexible with respect to applications and comparatively easy to install, it is a compelling solution thanks to its discreet and inconspicuous appearance. The advantages of Webnet also include its high load-bearing capacity, its impressive longevity, and the fact that it entails virtually no maintenance costs. These benefits have meanwhile been confirmed in a series of projects in Switzerland and abroad.

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