With spring’s warmer temperatures, many workers may be heading off to new jobs in construction. As one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, construction poses the greatest safety and health risks to new workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In addition to the hazards of working at heights and with heavy equipment and chemicals, often amid clouds of dust, construction work can present other, less visible hazards that extend beyond the workplace. These hazards include irregular and long hours, lengthy commutes to different job sites, and extended workdays. In turn, these hazards can increase the risk of psychological stress among workers and, subsequently, risky health behaviors, including poor nutrition and substance abuse.
An ongoing National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-funded study at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, is taking a holistic approach to worker health to minimize these risks. Although we often think of workplace safety and health as being confined to the worksite, the Total Worker Health® (TWH) approach views the conditions of work and the worker both in and out of the workplace. Consistent with traditional occupational safety and health prevention principles, the TWH approach recognizes that job-related factors can have an important impact on the well-being of workers, their families, and their communities. Issues such as wages, work hours, workload and stress, workplace interactions, access to paid leave, healthy workplaces, and safe worksites can be addressed through organizational programs, policies, and practices.
Currently in its 2nd year, the 5-year study is looking at the health-related behavior of new workers in three construction trades: carpentry, floor-laying, and boilermaking. Ultimately, the study aims to identify effective ways to change these behaviors to decrease the risk of work-related illness and injury. Investigators are working with a local carpenters’ council and an international construction workers’ group. The study’s aims are to 1) evaluate the effects of work on the health behaviors of new carpenters, floor-layers, and boilermakers; 2) identify current workplace health programs in these trades; and 3) determine the feasibility of working with unions, insurance companies, and other groups to improve the health and well-being of new construction workers.
To date, investigators have surveyed 912 carpenters, floor-layers, and boilermakers about work and health behaviors. In addition, they completed two focus groups with general contractors, subcontractors, and union representatives and interviewed a potential partner for implementing safety and health interventions. Final results are expected when the study concludes in 2021.