As the economy began to show marked signs of improvement a few years ago, another construction boom swept the country into a building frenzy. In 2014, according to a study by Sageworks, residential construction was one of the fastest-growing industries in America. And construction of new buildings, from real estate agencies to car dealerships, was up across the board, in most cases making double-digit gains over the year before. With economic growth continuing into this year, the trend will likely remain the same. Unfortunately, an increase in construction historically brings with it an increase in accidents throughout the industry.
"Investing in worker safety must become the highest priority."
According to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 was the deadliest year for construction workers since 2008, the peak of the last construction boom. The BLS counted 874 construction worker fatalities in 2014, compared to 828 the year before. As a hint of good news, the overall rate of fatalities per 100,000 workers was down slightly at 9.5, compared to 9.7 in 2013.
With construction enjoying higher sales volumes, investing in safety must become a higher priority as workers put in more hours under tighter schedules. Managers and supervisors who utilize innovative construction safety systems will come out ahead of the pack, not only in productivity and profit, but most importantly regarding the safety of their employees.
While nationwide trends aren't always as striking, the impact of the construction boom in individual cities has set off something of a crisis. In New York City in particular, city officials are cracking down on safety violations after a sharp rise in fatalities and accidents, according to The New York Times. At the time of writing in June, eight workers had died in the city since the beginning of 2015, as many as in all of the previous year. At that rate it was on pace to meet the recent high of 19 fatalities in 2008. Accidents overall were rising significantly as well, with a 24 percent increase in recorded construction mishaps in 2014 compared to the previous year.
To meet the pace of demand, as well as compensate for a shortage of skilled workers, crews are being forced to put in more hours and suffer the consequences. A study by the New York Building Congress found that New York City businesses increased their construction spending quite dramatically. The group estimated total construction spending in the city at $36 billion in 2014, compared to $32 billion spent in 2008. The New York Times additionally found 98,000 building permits issued in 2014, up from 74,000 in 2010.
The news about increased accidents despite unprecedented spending on construction comes at a time when the industry faces a significant labor shortage as well. According to The Wall Street Journal, as the construction industry becomes inundated with cash to build, contractors are finding it harder to hire. About 677,000 fewer workers are available compared to before the recession. The Wall Street Journal cited economists as remarking at how unusual this is, since even in past economic recoveries, the construction workforce usually recovers faster. Raleigh, North Carolina, construction executive Scott Cutler, in an interview with the Charlotte Business Journal, noted that while workers are seeing increased pay due to the shortage, it could have serious consequences as less experienced workers are hired.
"Now that the market is busy, contractors are paying more to hire workers — who are often less experienced," Cutler said. "This phenomenon has safety, quality, and productivity ramifications in addition to cost impacts."
"Supervisors can have access to toolbox talks from the push of a touchscreen."
Making a difference
Quite literally, the million dollar question from construction managers is how to keep costs down and productivity high while making worker safety a priority. With the use of modern technology, construction safety products used to enhance awareness and execution of safe practices on the job provide measurable benefits in the way of employee health and well-being. With construction apps available from the push of a touchscreen, supervisors have access to hundreds of toolbox talks and industry standard checklists to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Maintaining a high standard of safety on a work site is not always easy, but utilizing the tools at your disposal can make all the difference.