The Occupational Health & Safety Administration indicates that approximately 6.5 million people are working at construction sites around the country on any given day. Job accidents can happen in any industry, but these incidents are more likely in the construction industry. How can business owners and employees work together to ensure that construction workers are safe on their job, and help to avoid the risks that lead to injuries or even death?
In 2015, there were 985 reported construction worker fatalities in the United States.1 Additionally, 134.8 nonfatal injuries per 10,000 full time employees were recorded in 2015.1 As a student currently enrolled in a Master of Public Health program—these numbers are alarming and cause for serious concern in the public health sector, especially after considering that 6.5 million people work at construction sites on a daily basis. Businesses, their employees, and public health workers need to work together to implement injury and illness prevention programs in order to ensure the safety of construction site workers.
Injury and illness prevention programs are created to prevent workplace injury and death and the financial hardships that plague both business and individuals when occupational injuries do occur.2 Many U.S states already require or incentivize injury and illness preventions programs and each program is personalized specifically to each individual businesses’ needs. California, Hawaii, and Washington began to require that businesses implement injury and illness prevention programs in 1991, 1985, and 1973, respectively.2 In 2009, these three states had workplace fatalities 31% percent below the national average.2 While this statistic includes all workplace fatalities, not just construction fatalities, it is clear that a government mandate for injury and illness prevention programs is essential to lowering the number of occupational fatalities and injuries in the U.S.
Once all state governments begin mandating injury and illness prevention programs, the focus should then turn to how businesses can create the most successful prevention program. This is where the employees will come in. An essential part of ensuring construction worker safety is to include the workers themselves in the implementation process for the prevention programs, as they are the people most aware of the dangers associated with their workplace.2 Employees should participate in extensive surveys and focus groups in which they can express their safety concerns. This will allow the business to create a plan specifically tailored to their employees and business. This technique will also ensure that employees are actively involved in the process—making it more likely that they will comply with the regulations set out by the plan once they are on the job site.2 In addition, a major part of the program should include employee education. As a student of public health, I have learned that education is essential to changing unhealthy behaviors in individuals. Workers should have mandated injury and illness prevention in-service trainings to ensure that employees (new and old) are aware of preventative measures that must be complied with to ensure their safety within the workplace.
The numbers clearly show that construction site injuries are a serious public health concern. However, while occupational health and safety has been touched upon in my public health classes, it is not a hot topic like infectious disease or emergency preparedness. My last suggestion would be for higher education programs to re-evaluate their programs to include occupational health and safety into their core curriculum. This will produce leaders in the field of public health who are devoted to decreasing workplace injuries and fatalities in construction workers and who can act as a resource for businesses implementing injury and illness prevention programs.
- Earnest S, Betit E, Willmer D. NIOSH Science Blog. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2018/05/31/construction-mining- osh/. Published May 31, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018. 2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- https://www.osha.gov/dsg/InjuryIllnessPreventionProgramsWhitePaper.html#footnote1. Published January 2012. Accessed December 10, 2018.