With over 7 million employees creating nearly $1.3 trillion worth of structures each year, there is not a doubt that the construction industry is a major contributor to the US economy. The industry is one of the largest customers for manufacturing, mining, and a variety of other services.
Despite the size and scope of the construction industry, it is constantly adapting and changing according to the current economic and social environment. Currently, the post-recession construction boom is starting to slow, but that doesn’t mean the industry has become stagnant.
Private construction expenditure reached around 992 billion dollars in 2018, and new construction put in place is expected to reach over 1.53 trillion dollars by 2022. There has been sustainable growth throughout different sectors of construction, especially in the private development of single-family houses and home improvement projects. Additionally, the quick expansion of metropolitan cities has increased the demand for commercial construction projects.
However, this doesn’t mean the industry is without its challenges. There is an ongoing labor shortage for skilled workers and there is plenty of uncertainty around raw material trade and various tariffs. But new technology and innovative ideas like modular prefabricated construction offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
Regarding the construction industry, there are 3 main sectors - Construction of Buildings, Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction, and Specialty Trade Contractors.
This sub sector comprises establishments mainly responsible for the construction of buildings. The work performed involves new work, additions, alterations, or repairs and maintenance. The on-site assembly of panelized, precut, and prefabricated buildings as well as the construction of temporary buildings are also included in this subsector.
This subsector includes Residential Building Construction and Non-residential Building Construction. Part or all of the production work, which the establishments in this subsector have a responsibility, can be subcontracted to other construction associations—usually specialty trade contractors. As of May 2020, there are around 1.5 million people employed in this sector.
Specialty Trade Contractors
This sub sector comprises establishments whose main activity is to perform specific activities (pouring concrete, plumbing, site preparation, painting, and electrical work) involved in constructing buildings or other similar activities, but are not responsible for the whole project. This includes any new work, alterations, and repairs. The work performed by the establishments in this subsector is usually subcontracted from general contractors or operative builders.
However, in remodeling and repair construction, work can also be done for the owner of the property. Usually, specialty trade contractors conduct most of their work at the construction site itself, although they might have shops where they conduct prefabrication and other related work. Establishments that are primarily engaged in preparing sites for construction are also included in this subsector.
The sub sector also includes foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors, building equipment contractors, building finishing contractors, and other specialty trade contractors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the month of May 2020, there are approximately 4.4 million employees in this subsector.
This sub sector consists of establishments whose primary activity is the construction of entire engineering projects (highways and dams), and specialty trade contractors, whose main job is the production of specific components for such projects. The Specialty trade contractors in Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction generally perform work that is specific to heavy and civil engineering projects and are not usually performed on buildings.
It also consists of 3 different industry groups - Utility system construction, highway, street, and bridge construction, land subdivision, and other heavy and civil engineering construction. This sector has around 1 million employees.
While there’s no doubt that these sectors combined create a whopping $1.3 trillion worth of structures every year, there are some pitfalls in the construction industry. Although being a top contributor to the US economy, the industry is also one of the highest in terms of workplace injuries.
Here is a breakdown of the work-related fatalities that occurred in the subsectors of the construction industry:
Workplace injuries are common in this industry, as around one in five worker deaths last year were in the construction industry. According to OSHO, these are the top 4 hazards (Fatal Four) that need to be avoided -
Falls: 384 deaths (38.7%)
Struck By Object: 93 deaths (9.4%)
Electrocution: 82 deaths (8.3%)
Caught-In/Between: 72 deaths (7.3%)
(The 4th point includes construction workers who were killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment, and struck, caught, or crushed by collapsing structures, equipment, or materials.)
Hand injuries are one of the most common injuries to happen in the construction industry. According to a US Department of Labor study, injuries to fingers and hands accounted for more than 23%, which makes them the highest in preventable injuries. One study suggests the cost of one disabled hand or finger injury varies from $540 to $26,000 per patient, while serious upward extremity trauma averages $730,000 per incident.
While the average number of work days missed overall for hand injuries is usually five, older workers who experience the same injuries often require 12 to 14 days to recover. Additionally, hand injuries don’t just cost employers and employees missed days. The median hand injury claim has cost more than $6,000 in recent years whereas lost-time workers’ compensation claims have exceeded that, resulting in an average of $7,500.
As stated by OSHA, these are the top 10 most cited violations in the industry:
Powered industrial trucks
And these are the potential accident repercussions if the above violations are not taken care of -
Back or neck injuries
Spinal cord injury
Long-term impairment & inability to earn wages
However, there are ways in which establishments can help ensure the safety of the employees in the construction industry. While one can equip their staff with protective equipment, there are also training sessions, proper maintenance, and safety guidelines that one can follow to make sure their employees are safe and protected at all times.
Here are 5 ways you can keep your employees safe in the construction industry:
Employers should educate and teach employees about all the workplace safety standards and the types of hazards they might face while on the job. Workers should review the health and safety policies for every job they are called to do. The safety policy should include the procedure as well as the name and location of a trained first aid responder.
Additionally, employees should not operate any equipment they are not qualified or trained to use. This can help curb the number of fatalities that occur due to inexperienced employees.
Prior to the start of any project, the site should be inspected for any hazards, both usual and unusual. Risk assessment can keep your workers’ health and safety protected. After finishing the risk assessment, you can make a list of preventive measures that should be taken and implemented.
It is critical to ensure that all workers receive the appropriate information, education, and training on safety measures. When your employees know and understand the different hazards in the workplace, they can take the right steps to avoid such risks.
It goes without saying that workers should always wear the recommended safety equipment for their respective jobs. This can either be a hard hat, high-visibility clothing, goggles, safety gloves, steel-toed shoes, or even a protective suit. In the summer, outdoor workers require wide-brim hard hats, long sleeve-lightweight shirts, and nape protectors to protect them from the sun’s harsh rays.
When you have the right protective gear, your employees can be assured that they are safe from certain risks. The majority of construction workers and carpenters work with their hands, so that is one part of the body that calls for immediate protection. Some protective equipment brands ensure that their gear is made to be durable enough to handle cuts, abrasions, as well as ensure the wearer remains comfortable and dry.
If the construction tools and equipment are used in ways for which it was not designed, the built-in safety features won’t be able to help should something go wrong. The misuse of equipment can also result in damage and can also cause employee injuries. It is recommended that the equipment itself should meet the OSHA standards.
There are many employers and employees who cut corners regarding the procedures and rules of OSHA, which increases the risks for injuries on the construction site. Any incidents, accidents, or violations of the OSHA regulations should be recorded and reported for the safety of everyone involved. OSHA has stated that by reducing the Fatal Four, around 591 workers' lives in America can be saved every year.