The construction industry has its fair share of risks – and then some. On top of the more common issues – like injuries, construction defects, and environmental concerns – there are three growing risks to be aware of: violence, substance abuse and aging.
Violence in the Construction Workforce
It’s no secret that the construction industry has to deal with accidental injuries, but some may not realize that violence is also a problem. According to the National Safety Council, two million Americans report being the victims of workplace violence every year. In 2013, violence resulted in 680 injuries and 36 deaths in the construction industry alone.
In order to combat workplace violence, this article from Construction Executive urges the creation and training in a strong Emergency Action Plan, as well as screening new hires for red flags.
OSHA does not have standards for workplace violence, but the agency provides resources on prevention programs, risk factors and training.
Substance Abuse and Construction Workers
Substance abuse can contribute to workplace violence, as well as accidents, missed work and other serious problems.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 15 million adults in the United States suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. Abuse of prescriptions and illegal drugs is also common, and the current opioid epidemic is only making it worse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 1.7 million people in the United States had an opioid-related substance use disorder in 2017.
Construction workers have high rates of substance abuse. According to a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 16.5 percent of construction workers reported heavy drinking in the last month. This was the second highest rate of all industries; only mining a had a higher rate. The study also found that 11.6 percent of construction workers reported using illicit drugs in the last month.
Keeping a worksite safe from substance abuse is ongoing effort. In addition to creating policies for a drug-free work zone, this article from Construction Executive recommends employee assistance programs to help workers recover.
An Aging Construction Workforce
It’s not just construction – the entire population is aging. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2035, people over the age of 65 will outnumber people under the age of 18 for the first time. At the same time, the construction industry is struggling to attract young workers. This can lead to labor shortages, which can put additional strain on the workers who are stretched too thin.
And while older workers have valuable experience, they may also be more prone to certain types of injuries, such as problems with their backs and joints. As the workforce ages, it will be increasingly important to meet the needs of older workers.
As Construction Executive explains, improvement can be made on multiple fronts, such as giving attention to ergonomics and creating training programs that meet the needs and learning preferences of older workers.
New technologies may also provide relief. Exoskeletons, like this one from SuitX, let construction workers lift heavy items without putting as much strain on their shoulders, backs and legs.
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