Reduce Construction Injuries with a Simple Solution

When people head to their workplace each day – wherever it may be – they may be thinking about their to-do list, a meeting with their supervisor, or even how to overcome a challenging work task. No matter the industry, an employee shouldn't have to go to work each day worried about getting injured. But in construction, that is a consideration employees must face constantly.

Working in construction is dangerous. Of the 4,836 workers killed on the job in 2015, one in five were construction workers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and getting caught-in/between are the leading causes of the majority of construction industry deaths, earning them the infamous title of the "Fatal Four."

Worker fatality is the most severe of incidents, but the risk of fatality is not the only danger on construction jobsites. Additionally, those in construction face serious work-related injuries that lead to disability and lost work time. The causes are often related to repetitive motion, overexertion and environmental factors. These can include heat stress or heat stroke, hypothermia, frostbite, as well as sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal injuries.

When it comes to those musculoskeletal injuries, recent data shows the number of construction industry work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) decreased from nearly 55,000 in 1992 to just over 18,000 in 2014. However, these workers maintain the largest number of WMSD cases, which are often due to overexertion and back injuries. The cost of WMSDs is high – estimated at around $46 million in 2014 for private wage and salary construction workers.

Of course, employers in the construction industry are aware of this problem and the dangers their employees face daily. After awareness, addressing these injuries is the next step. It's best approached proactively and can be accomplished by using pre-hire physical abilities testing (PAT), a safety measure that has been shown to reduce workplace injuries and the resulting costs. 

Pre-hire PAT in construction must be based on a thorough job analysis. No two construction companies are alike — a general laborer in one company may have very different responsibilities than in another company. However, there are some common threads. There is typically a considerable amount of lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling of heavy weights that occur on a construction site. Many employees climb ladders or scaffolding, squat down to perform activities at or near the ground or bend forward at the waist. Sometimes they crawl in or around structures. They also reach overhead for prolonged periods of time while hammering, installing dry wall, etc. These activities are commonly found on a construction PAT test.

Many of the construction job responsibilities place high demands on the body. The back, shoulder, knee and hip are often stressed the most. To make matters worse, construction work is often performed in extreme temperatures with heavy gear, which taxes a worker's cardiovascular system. Working on ladders and scaffolding requires balance. A pre-hire physical ability test in construction should consider all of these challenges.

As with any other industry, matching worker abilities with job demands reduces the likelihood of an injury since workers are less likely to be working beyond their abilities. If the job requires lifting 50 pounds and the worker can only lift 35 pounds, they are more likely to get injured because they don’t have the physical ability to do the job – and no amount of safety training is likely to change that. PATs are particularly effective in reducing slips, trips and falls, and musculoskeletal strains and sprains – two of the most common injuries on construction sites. 

Other initiatives like ergonomic assessments and safety education programs also increase workplace safety. Employers should not only conduct workplace assessments to identify specific risks in their workplace, but also provide safety training to increase awareness of these risks and how to avoid them. Safety equipment should be updated regularly and employees must be trained to use it properly.

While it is not feasible to prevent every construction injury, construction companies can work to create a culture of safety that decreases the number and severity of injuries. Investing in hiring the right people for the job through the use of physical abilities testing is a first step in preventing those injuries and will always yield a valuable return.

Deborah Lechner, PT, MS, president of ErgoScience (www.ergoscience.com), combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability. Today, the company continues to enhance its offerings through on-going research and development, and serves clients all over the world with an ever-growing international network of clinics. In addition to being president of ErgoScience, she has worked for the University of Alabama at Birmingham and has been a consultant to the Social Security Administration.

Posted on Jun 20, 2017


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