Safety Leader

Health Risk Behaviors Among Construction Workers

Two construction workers working together.

New research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests that several different behaviors that contribute to higher health and safety risks for workers are more prevalent among construction workers than among workers in other industries.

The study, “Health Risk Behavior Profile of Construction Workers, 32 states, 2013-2016,” appeared in the May 12, 2020 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

According to NIOSH, construction workers are in physically demanding jobs and are exposed to many chemical and physical workplace hazards. Falls remain the leading cause of work-related deaths in construction; they account for about one-third of the total fatalities in the industry.

NIOSH uncovered previous studies suggesting that construction workers who exhibit certain health risk behaviors may be more likely to experience work-related injuries, such as falls. The recent study was an opportunity for the researchers to explore how common certain health risk behaviors are among construction workers.

The researchers identified five health risk behaviors that are more common among construction workers compared to workers in other industries. They are smoking, using smokeless tobacco, binge drinking, no leisure-time physical activity and not always wearing seatbelts.

For example, electrical power-line installers and repairers have a significantly elevated prevalence for binge drinking.

Interesting, the study also found that another health risk behavior, getting less than seven hours of sleep a night was significantly less prevalent among construction workers compared to workers in other industries.

The study also found that construction managers often didn’t model healthy behaviors themselves. For example, according to NIOSH, “Construction managers had an elevated prevalence for smoking, smokeless tobacco use, binge drinking, and not always using a seatbelt.”

NIOSH concluded that one-way construction firms could help their workers become healthier and safer would be to encourage behavior changes among construction managers, suggesting that this “could have positive effects on the safety and health culture in the construction industry.”

In addition, NIOSH suggested that workers could benefit from “targeted interventions and health programs specific to their particular occupation to reduce these behaviors, particularly since they are also potentially exposed to workplace-specific hazards.

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