April 28

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Worker Safety Gets National Attention

By Robert Salvador

April 28, 2021


In my experience running my own construction contracting business as well as talking with friends and other business owners in our industry, one constant concern is employee health and safety.

Each year, during his week, there are a couple of nationally recognized drives related to worker safety that are worth taking some time to consider.

This week kicks off National Work Zone Awareness and this today is Workers Memorial Day.

National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) is an annual spring campaign held at the start of construction season to encourage safe driving through highway work zones. 

The key message is for drivers to use extra caution in work zones.

  • Between 2013 and 2019, work zone fatalities increased 42%. 
  • In 2019, over 115,000 work zone crashes were estimated to have occurred resulting in over 39,000 injuries and 842 fatalities.
  • In a 2019 survey, 67% of highway contractors reported crashes into their work zones. 
  • 89% of highway contractors think positive protection would improve safety on their projects.
  • In 2020, work zone crashes & fatalities  increased despite lower traffic volumes.

The rising number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities highlight the need for positive protection

  • Increased efforts to raise awareness of the need for more caution when driving through work zones to decrease fatalities and injuries.
  • Establish and promote a uniform set of safety guidelines.
  • The value of training and importance of best practices in regard to work zone safety.
  • Collaboration with both roadway workers and contractors to lessen negative behavior.

One of the key factors used in road safety in general and work zone safety specifically is the implementation of new technologies.

If you have been driving , even for a few years, you will have noticed the new and different types of guardrails and barriers now being used to protect workers and drivers. 

One of the most important safety features used to protect workers is Temporary Traffic Control Devices. These devices and countermeasures are roadway and infrastructure improvements implemented directly to the roadway network. Countermeasures include highly reflective signs and pavement markings, roadside hardware devices, traffic control devices and other geometric improvements. These strategies can actually mitigate against behavior-related crashes by alerting drivers of an upcoming change in the driving environment that requires action or by providing positive guidance to prevent a collision. 

With different perspectives and priorities, industry stakeholders are finding that in addition to new technologies, success is heavily reliant on communication between entities. Industry leaders are working together to develop creative solutions to highlight these products and technologies.

One effort worth watching is a joint initiative with the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Traffic Control Devices (AHB50). Both ATSSA and TRB sponsor and conduct an exciting design competition, the Traffic Control Device (TCD) Student Challenge, to promote innovation and stimulate ideas in the traffic control devices area with a goal to improve operations and safety.

It is the goal of this competition along with any other efforts across a wide range of stakeholders to continue to improve work zone safety.

Workers Memorial Day, April 28, was established to recognize workers who died or suffered from exposures to hazards at work. It also encourages us to think of ways in which we all can help to achieve the goal of safer and healthier workplaces.

  • Since 2009 preventable work-related deaths have increased 17.5%, while the number of workers increased 8.2%.
  • In 2018, work-related injuries claimed the lives of 5,250 U.S. workers, a 2% increase from 2017. 
  • In 2018, employers reported approximately 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses to private industry workers.

Occupational injuries and illnesses have broad social and economic impacts on workers and their families.

The National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) Identifies research priorities based on a format called BNI.

BNI is the acronym for Burden, Need and Impact.  

The central tenets of the BNI Method are that NIOSH:

  • Must do the most important work to protect the workforce,
  • Must identify research priorities to guide the investment of limited resources in a clear and transparent manner, and
  • Base these priorities on the evidence of Burden, Need and Impact.

As an example:

In 2018, there were 320 fall fatalities out of 1,008 total fatalities in construction, making falls the most common cause of death among workers. 

NIOSH is making concerted efforts with regulators and industry leaders, professional associations, labor unions, employers and employees, and safety professionals to implement new effective fall prevention and protection technologies.  There is also a drive to educate the workforce to build the culture of work safety. 

They have developed an online Mast Climbing Work Platform Inspection tool and started a national campaign for fall awareness. 

What about construction?

Construction is a high hazard industry that comprises a wide range of activities involving construction, alteration, and/or repair. Construction workers engage in activities every day that may expose them to serious hazards. 

Falls are a hazard found in many work settings, but construction has the most fatal falls out of all industries and represents 51% of all falls nationally.

Falls are the number one cause of construction-worker fatalities, accounting for one-third of all on-the-job deaths in the industry. 

Away from the jobsite, construction industry participants also deal with extremely serious health issues, including drug abuse, and the highest suicide rate for any industry.

Employees of the construction industry, mostly blue-collar workers, have nearly twice the rate of substance abuse as the national average, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Around 15% of all construction workers in the United States have a substance abuse disorder compared to 8.6% of the adult general population.

Suicide

Surprisingly, the number one risk in the construction industry isn’t physical, but rather mental. Beating out working from heights as the number one cause of fatality is suicide. 

Suicide was 5 times greater than the rate of all fatal work-related injuries in the construction industry in 2018. 

Suicide average amongst low-skilled male construction workers is almost four times the national average, putting the likelihood of suicide in our industry 63% higher than in any other reporting group. 

The big question is why? What is it about working in the construction industry that drives people to take their own lives more so than in other industries? 

  • Some credit the insecure nature of the job combined with low pay, exploitation and bullying.
  • Some construction employees are contract workers who often have irregular schedules. 
  • Additionally, construction workers typically work more hours than the average American each week. 

Mental health must be treated with the same level of concern as physical health. It needs to be addressed at tool box talks. Encourage frank discussion and conversation. Be proactive in providing means for workers to talk to a colleague or manager. Simple actions can make a big difference and possibly prevent someone from reaching the crisis point.

The following three should prompt you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or a mental health professional:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself. Communication may be veiled, such as: “I just can’t take it anymore.” or “What’s the use?”
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

DigiBuild's founders are committed to reducing suicide incidents and improving mental health within the industry. We believe that along with the many safety advances that are transforming on-site safety like PPE, Drones and robotics to name a few; having software tools that lower stress levels and increase efficiency can go a long way to making construction safer.

There is a better way, and our mission is to build blockchain solutions and connected platforms to create a healthier and happier global construction industry.

The result will be a happier workforce, happier clients, and a well-respected construction industry.

Robert Salvador

About The Author

Rob Salvador is the visionary driving force behind DigiBuild, an experienced builder, project manager and construction technologist. Since the age of 10, Rob has witnessed what it was like, firsthand for his Dad struggling to run his construction company. He eventually started his own construction company and those experiences and the lack of change over that time span led to his mission of creating a better way to operate construction projects and the construction community. Rob’s passion and previous cryptocurrency startup experiences are what led to him becoming a blockchain expert. In 2017 he had his ‘aha moment’ and the idea of 'how to' apply blockchain to construction took form and DigiBuild was born.

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