July 1, 2020

NIOSH Finds High Prevalence of Risky Behavior in Construction

Construction workers are significantly more likely than workers in other industries to exhibit behaviors that contribute to higher health risks, according to a study by NIOSH researchers that appears in the May issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study involved a telephone survey of 38 different construction occupations among workers in 32 states. The survey was conducted from 2013 through 2016.

Researchers examined six behaviors that contribute to health risk. When compared to the general workforce, construction workers were found to be significantly more likely to smoke, use smokeless tobacco, and participate in binge drinking; and significantly less likely to always wear a seat belt and engage in physical activity during leisure time.

The other behavior NIOSH studied, getting less than seven hours of sleep, was significantly less prevalent among construction workers than the general workforce.

The construction occupations covered in the study included laborers, project managers, contractors, and several others. A NIOSH press release about the study suggested that changes in behavior among managers could have positive effects on the safety and health culture in the construction industry.

Other recent research has highlighted health and safety issues among construction workers. CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training reports that nearly 60 percent of construction workers in the U.S. are either over 65 or have medical conditions or other risk factors that make them susceptible to COVID-19 (PDF). CDC data from 17 states indicate that the construction and extraction occupational group had the highest male suicide rate among all occupational groups in 2012 and 2015.

According to Barbara Epstien, a certified industrial hygienist at the Oregon-Columbia Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, who presented on health and safety issues in construction at AIHce EXP 2020, the “tough-guy” culture of construction workers and the high-pressure environment of the industry combine to create a “perfect storm of risk.” Epstien also identified opioid abuse as an emerging concern in the construction industry. For more information, read The Synergist’s coverage of Epstien’s presentation.