The number of injuries and illnesses in the construction industry is trending downward, but companies need to continue making worker safety a priority – especially as they address the ongoing labor shortage.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incident rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the construction industry was 2.5 per 100 full-time employees.1 The total number of cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the industry was 174,100.2 These numbers are lower than the incident rates and total cases in 2019 and 2018.3, 4, 5, 6
Despite the declining trend of injuries, professionals at The Hartford believe construction firms need to keep worker safety at the forefront as they address the ongoing talent and labor shortage in construction. Companies are getting creative to find workers. From recruiting veterans to working closely with trade schools, construction firms are trying to find skilled laborers to meet project deadlines.
“Bringing in someone with little to no experience in construction puts them at risk of injury. And it’s no secret that younger workers also face a higher risk of injury at construction sites,” said David DeSilva, head of Construction at The Hartford. “So, while construction firms may be finding labor to fill vacancies, it’s crucial that they also put an emphasis on safety and wellbeing.”
Margie Snyder, assistant director of solutions for Health Services at The Hartford, added that the approach that construction firms are taking and the lack of experience among new hires means insurers are “anticipating an increase in the number of injuries.”
According to The Hartford’s workers’ compensation insurance (WC insurance) claims data, 2 out of 5 claimants have less than one year with their employer.7
“The issue isn’t employers hiring people who are new to construction, it’s the fact that they need proper training and supervision to make sure they’re as safe as possible at job sites,” Snyder explained.
Chris O’Hala, director of construction risk engineering, said it’s important for contractors to have a “solid onboarding strategy.”
“This strategy should address the operations and hazards the worker will be anticipated to encounter. It should also discuss unique features of the contractor’s business and policies that are specific to them. Not every contractor is the same and workers must be aware of this,” he explained. “Lastly, the onboarding process should include a measurement of what the individual knows and doesn’t know about construction and the tasks they’ll be expected to do. This will establish a baseline for task assignments and training needs.”
Why Is Construction Safety Important?
Construction safety is important because an injured or sick worker can miss work, which can impact a construction firm’s project deadlines. In fact, of the 174,1000 construction injuries and illnesses in 2020, over 40% of them resulted in days away from work.8
The types of injuries that construction workers face vary from site to site. According to Snyder, the most common construction worker injuries include:
- Eye injuries
- Slips and falls
What Are the Four Most Common Hazards in Construction?
The four hazards in construction are:9
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these hazards are also the top four causes of fatalities in the construction industry.
What Are Safe Construction Practices?
Safe construction practices mean putting programs in place and taking measures to protect workers at job sites. While there are a number of measures that construction firms can take, the first step is to be proactive.
Having a safety program can serve as a good foundation for safe construction practices, DeSilva said. If a construction firm doesn’t have a formal program in place, he emphasized that it isn’t too late. OSHA provides tips on steps that firms can take to get started, like:10
- Make safety and health a top priority
- Lead by example
- Create a reporting system
- Provide training
- Conduct inspections
- Collect hazard control ideas
- Put in hazard controls
- Address emergencies
- Make improvements
Construction Site Safety When Working Alone
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations and guidelines meant some construction firms could only have a limited number of workers at a job site. Sometimes, this meant a worker may be alone at the site. This drastically increased a construction firm’s risks.
While COVID-19 regulations and guidelines have eased as the pandemic continued, firms may find they still need to send a smaller group of workers to a job site. This is why planning is essential for construction site safety.
Here are 10 tips that construction companies can use to help keep their workers safe:
- Determine if the work can be done remotely: Before you ask contractors to go to the construction site, determine if it’s actually necessary. Certain tasks, like administrative work or monitoring, can be done without going to the site.
- Inspect the job site: Remove any potential hazards from your construction site before contractors start working.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE): If a contractor must go to a job site, make sure you give them the necessary PPE. This can include masks, face shields, gloves and protective clothing.
- Develop a response plan and practice it: Accidents can happen, especially if people are working alone. Create a plan to respond to these kinds of events and practice them ahead of time so you’re prepared.
- Review safety plans with employees: Make sure your contractors are familiar with safety plans while working at your construction site.
- Make communication a priority: Develop a plan to stay in touch with contractors on site and remote workers. Don’t forget to test your equipment to make sure they work properly. This includes walkie-talkies, radios or computers.
- Use IoT devices: Internet of Things (IoT) devices can help you monitor your contractors to make sure they’re staying safe. You may want to use cameras at job sites or give contractors wearable sensors to help monitor them while they work alone.
- Fix any service issues: If you’re planning to rely on cell phones for communication, make sure the contractors you’ve hired have service. You should also have a backup plan just in case there’s an outage.
- Have regular communication check ins: Be sure the contact person at a construction site knows how to get in touch with you and that they’re familiar with the check-in schedule.
- Use common sense: If you don’t think work should be done alone at a construction site, don’t risk it. Use your best judgment and keep your contractors’ safety in mind.
Onsite Injury Prevention Services
Insurers are beginning to partner closely with construction customers to help with risk identification and management. When it comes to safety for construction workers, The Hartford offers onsite injury prevention services (IPS).
Through the offering, a clinical service is set up on construction sites – giving workers access to a team of medical professionals to help prevent or address injuries or illnesses, Snyder explained. She added that Health Services and the clinical team work together to identify trends at the job site. Any trends are brought to The Hartford’s Risk Engineering team, which provides risk management solutions.
It’s this partnership that allows The Hartford to create customized solutions for customers, Snyder emphasized.
“We really understand that the risks at construction sites vary. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. The onsite injury prevention services really include proactive elements to it,” Snyder said. “The team is very involved with workers as they take a consultative approach to risk management.”
Through its workers’ compensation insurance (WC insurance) program, The Hartford prides itself on being able to get employees back to work faster. With injury prevention services, the insurer can help prevent employees from getting hurt in the first place.
In other words, WC insurance is a reactive part of a customer’s risk management plan – providing benefits to help employees recover from a work-related injury or illness. IPS is a proactive program that provides “pre-claim services,” Synder noted.
“The Hartford does a really good job of getting people back to work. And now, we’re able to wrap them holistically and keep them healthy and safe on the jobsite,” she emphasized.
Mental Health and Construction Worker Safety
Worker mental health and wellbeing is becoming more of a focus within the construction industry – especially after a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found men in the construction industry had one of the highest suicide rates.11
In a recent Future of Benefits pulse survey, The Hartford found that mental health concerns were the greatest in the construction industry. A contributing factor to this is because construction was deemed an “essential” job during the pandemic, said Dr. Michael Lacroix, a medical director at The Hartford.
“These workers had to continue working while others were able to take time off or had the ability to work from home,” he explained.
An important mentality to have when it comes to addressing worker mental health is to “offer help early,” Lacroix emphasized.
“Don’t assume that your employees know where to get help, and don’t assume that they’re aware of all of their benefits,” he said. “While many employers may offer generous benefit plans, workers are often busy and by the time they need the information, it may take time and effort to find it.”
Construction firms can regularly communicate the benefits that workers have access to. This can be done through emails, texts or flyers delivered in the mail.
Lacroix also noted that an employee assistance program (EAP) can be hugely beneficial for workers. These services can give workers the opportunity to address their mental health early, Lacroix said.
Addressing Stigma in Construction
While The Hartford does partner with vendors that offer some form of mental health support, Snyder said she believes there is some form of stigma in the construction industry that may hold an employee back from getting mental health treatment.
It’s why she said she believes employers should make sure there are support services in place for employees, such as an EAP.
Both Lacroix and Snyder said it’s essential for construction companies to create a stigma-free culture where employees feel comfortable and can get the treatment they may need. One way to do this is through the creation of an employee resource group (ERG).
“More and more companies are developing ERG groups that focus on mental health, including stigma. These can be helpful – especially discussions where there is self-disclosure from participants,” Lacroix said. “Don’t be afraid to talk openly about mental health.”