Salon has done an excellent piece on the epidemic of suicides amongst Burning Man workers.
There is a great deal of concern about the high frequency of depression and suicide among Black Rock City LLC (BRC) workers. While several factors contribute to depression and suicide, and correlation is not causation, the fact remains that 3 suicides (in a year) is an astonishingly high rate for virtually any population so small, and more so because, while these deaths are mourned, they are not entirely unexpected.
To put this in perspective, the US Army in 2011 reported a peak of 22.9 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, which was the highest rate seen in a decade. Per 100,000 appears to be a standard metric for this sort of thing. Assuming the combined numbers of Gate, DPW and Rangers to be approximately 1,000 strong, that would mean a suicide rate of 300 per 100,000. Statistically speaking, Black Rock City’s staff are 13 times more likely to kill themselves in the off-season than veterans returning from active combat duty. Even in a “slow year”, where only one BRC worker commits suicide, that is still 4 times the Army’s highest recorded suicide rate.
Read the full story at Salon.com
The story has also been picked up by the Daily Mail, Rave Jungle, and EDM Tunes. There’s also a rebuttal piece on Medium. If the suicide rate is just standard, nothing special to Burning Man, then why are there no other festivals with such a high death toll?
The seven suicides in seven years were just for DPW workers. There have also been Burners who committed suicide at the event, or after the event, workers who died on the job, and tragic fatal accidents.
Burning Man’s official history traces its origins to a secret society known as The Suicide Club. Coincidence? Or dark irony?
Some previous related coverage:
DPW vs the Org – Labor Relations Board Ruling (2018)
Protesting the Protestors (2014)
Man Burns When Man Burns (2017)
Burning Man Electrician’s Tragic Death (2014)
Burner Dies At Utah Regional (2014)
Woman Dies At Burning Man (2014)
How Not To Die At Burning Man (2014)
9 Ways to Die At Burning Man (2013)
Monday is the New Saturday (2012)
There have also been two deaths by drowning at regional events, political activist Jay Houston Marx at Transformus NC (2015) and Matthew Vo at Lakes of Fire MI (2016).
The Black Rock Beacon also covered deaths at Burning Man in 2014:
Black Rock Beacon: A History of Deaths (2014)
Before this year, there were at least six deaths in Black Rock City. An additional number of Burners passed away after being evacuated.
The known deaths, reported by the Black Rock Beacon and other media or the Burning Man organization:
- 2011 – Erika Kupfersberger, cerebral hemorrhage.
- 2007 – Jermaine “Jerm” Barley, suicide by hanging.
- 2006 – Adam Goldstone, a DJ with a known heart condition, died in RV after fainting.
- 2005 – Sam Rich, a member of the fire-dancing group Controlled Burn, heart attack. Rich had sustained a head injury for which he was given stitches on Wednesday, the day before he died.
- 2003 – Katherine Lampman, run over by art car she was exiting.
- 2001 – A participant chose to run into a fire, according to the Afterburn probably the burning of Amazing Larry’s Lucky Seven Ages, the casino built into two large dice in the Deep Playa.
Among other event-related fatalities, an unidentified 52-year-old female Burner died in a Reno hospital after being transported from the Playa in 2010 because of an “unknown” medical condition, according to the Afterburn.
In 2005, a second Burner suffered cardiac arrest on the Playa and died that October after slipping into a coma in the hospital.
One fatality occurred from one of the two aircraft crashes in 2003. Barry Jacobs, the pilot of one of the planes, died after being hospitalized.
Two additional deaths in 2001 associated with the event included a Department of Public Works volunteer who died in a motor vehicle accident on the highway before the event and a second traffic fatality on Highway 447 during Exodus.
Michael Furey died in a motorcycle accident as the event was being set up in 1996.
Well, I was right. 6 people died in Chicago labor day weekend with 23 wounded. How many died, and or were wounded at BM this year. I will take my chances on the playa any day.
I don’t think anyone here would disagree that a lot of people drawn to volunteer at BM, particularly for departments like DPW, have borderline personality disorders. Some with flat-out disorders. This is not a knock at them, but these kinds of scenes tend to draw people on the fringe. That’s not to say more shouldn’t be done, but it should be accounted for when thinking about this issue.
By appearances, that is the new grape Kool Aid, grape is most intentional in due of the horrible subject matter. And, the BMOrg did not desire to pay them for their weeks, or months, of labour, which caused many difficulties. The Kool Aid, prior of 2014, was of the BMOrg did to have the cash to pay them, in despite of near to four million dollars missing from their published payroll costs in each of the years of 2010, through 2013.
Might paying the DPW workers a fair wage made a difference? Or might paying them any wage made a difference? The other BMOrg Kool Aid is fair is whatever a person might accept, might it be whiskey, the community of their mates, social karma, and changing the world. In the manner of examples, the stories of the awesome spaceship man base within 2013, of the Burner whom designed it, and was the lead of construction of it, desired to be paid $60,000 for his year of labour, but the BMOrg solely desired to pay him $15,000, and the man base crew desired to be paid, thus the man base crew quit prior of the spaceship was finished, and thus, there were no man bases in 2014, or 2015. The stories of the man crew did near to the same within 2014, of desiring to be paid, thus the man had been built from hired construction workers prior of this burn. The DPW electrical crew was near to the same. At the least, the BMOrg is, at present, by appearances, is beginning to pay the DPW workers, it should have occurred many years prior.
Now, might the BMOrg, in actuality, keep their promises of giving volunteers free tickets, they might be of the ability to staff the gate over night, and halt the ten hour waits, after the dust storms of Sunday evening, and, by appearances, the volunteers did not staff the gate other nights. And, the BMOrg told the gate, DPW, and ESD volunteers whom did not obtain their promised tickets, not to discuss the broken promises with others, while the BMOrg gives solely a rubbish excuse.
Kudos to Keith A Spencer and Nicole Karlis, whom penned this story. And, kudos are much deserved to Ricardo Romero for his efforts to improve the treatment of DPW workers, and to the DPW workers, and others, for working together to attempt to gain fair treatment from the BMorg, and assisting Keith, and Nicole, in penning this article.
@keithspencer: This is what @nicolekarlis and I have been working on for almost a year. Among the sordid revelations: a high suicide rate among seasonal workers, a permanently blinded volunteer thrown under the bus, and numerous accounts of a toxic work environment.
@nicolekarlis: Burning Man workers detail labor abuse, unequal wages, on-the-job injuries –including permanent blindness–and management. Here is what @keithspencer and I have been working on for the past year.
J H Fearless Jessica the Hun has many thoughtful tweets.
Thanks to all of you for the thoughtful work on this piece. It’s important, and we have felt for a long time nobody was listening or wanted to take our story seriously. This is good.
And, If you care about labor rights, this #LaborDay, share this article about #BurningMan #workers. It is an important story, and it is true.
I knew them well. When Schraber killed himself, it tore all of us apart. I saw him a few weeks before that. Ostracizing and ignoring anyone who spoke up was so cruel; for many of us this was our chosen family, and being shunned from that is terrible. I’m on the “shun” list now.
Here’s what I wrote to get myself shunned. … Is 2018 the year Burning Man starts doing right by its workers?
Jessica has a very thoughtful thread about these matters. So, as somebody who has experienced all of this #BurningMan worker struggle firsthand, I’m conflicted about what to say. I do blame the management for manipulating people into poverty and sometimes death. I am not sure they “realized” that’s what they were doing.
In further regards to the excellent reporting Salon: Exclusive: Burning Man, a utopia for guests, was hell for many workers the proper links to @keithspencer and @jhfearless
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Nobody is blaming anyone, but the Salon story points out a statistical anomaly with the suicides. There are a lot of suicides around this community. Other festivals/scenes, not so much.
Not to make light of death, 12 people have died versus a guestimated 750,000 +/-people that have attended the event. 4 deaths were totally preventable, with one being directly related to playa activity. I think it’s a stretch to blame the playa or BM for heart attacks, unhealthy life styles.
Totals 2014 – 2017 of attended was 752,239 which is arrived at by adding together the “peak paid population” for each year. Doesn’t account for multiple attendance through the years.
Deaths listed in Media articles (2001 – 2011) you have 12 which is way low and includes some Event/Playa and traffic off Playa.
Which doesn’t include the guy playing chicken with the train a few years ago (he lost the train didn’t swerve) or the woman found months after the Event on the Playa deceased that was “on her way to Burning Man”. Nor the pre-Event death of the longtime BRC employee or the guy that died in the Las Vegas hospital that was thought to have come from Burning Man maybe the concern was saving a life and not so much the documentation.
The high suicide rate from a small segment of DWP volunteers which is alarming.
Just the facts Mam, lot of deaths and injury’s for an event tremendously safe for children
“lot of deaths and injury’s.
Really? Almost 30 years of holding this event in one of the harshest environments on earth, and 12-14 deaths is a lot? Of course, even one is too many, but still, BM has a pretty solid track record here. And anyway, isn’t a big part of the allure of the event, especially in the early days, that it’s potentially dangerous? And even that is what you make of it. Families can attend perfectly safely as they choose appropriate activities and behaviors, while others can test their limits all kinds of ways.
My article lists 22 deaths, of which I think 2 were DPW suicides. Salon story has 7 DPW suicides. That makes 27 (3 were at regionals). There have definitely been more. Most of the deaths are pronounced in Reno, there is no coroner in Black Rock City. This makes it much harder to track.
There are also serious injuries, such as the permanent laser blindness in the Salon story. Almost 1 in 10 of the population goes to the medical tent each year.
No way 750,000 attended in three years 2014 -2017 max would be 270,000. I would guess total # for all of the years is 1,000,000 +/- let’s just throw a number of 50 deaths since inception. It’s still a very small # compared to total participation #
Let’s say 100,000 people attend a football game, and 1 person dies in a car wreck on the way home, another person suffers a heart attack at the game and dies later in the hospital and the third person commits suicide due to the loss of his favorite team that he bet the farm on. Is all of this blame to go against the football team / stadium for holding the event?
I stand corrected
added totals 2014 – 2017 270,440
added totals 2004 – 2017 752,239
added totals 1997 – 2017 910,863
For “paid Participants”
“In 2017/18, the regular season home attendance of the franchise was 803,436, an average of 19,596 per game. The overall average attendance in the NBA stood at 17,830 in the same season.”
How many people died at Warriors games this season?
How many people will die this weekend in chicago? Probably more than the bm total count.
Yeah but attending Burning Man isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) the same thing as attending a basketball game, or any other SPECTATOR sport. THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF BURNING MAN. It’s crazy. It’s potentially dangerous. There are no roped off areas with coddling warning signs. It’s in the middle of a freakin’ desert. And even with all that, the number of deaths, while tragic, are incredibly small. And the BMORG has every safety and first responder measure in place. And, as I’ve stated, a lot of people drawn to BM, and especially the volunteers, are on the fringe.