Construction workers in Illinois face an increased injury risk as a result of the industry’s growing labor shortage. On any given day in the U.S., there are as many as 6.5 million workers on about 252,000 construction sites. However, a substantial number of job vacancies in the field remains.
Due to the nature of their work and their working environments, laborers in the construction industry have one of the highest occupational injury rates of all jobs. Among the most common hazards for construction workers include falls from significant heights, trench or scaffolding collapses, electric shock, and repetitive motion injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers suffered 199,100 recordable work-related injuries and 1,003 work-related deaths in 2018 alone.
The Declining Construction Workforce
In recent years, the construction industry has seen a steady decrease in its workforce. The recession that hit the U.S. in 2008 saw drastic numbers of laborers leave construction jobs in order to find work, and many of them never returned to those jobs when the industry began to recover. As many of the laborers left working on construction sites reach retirement age and those entering the workforce are choosing to take on less dangerous and labor-intensive jobs, the industry lacks the necessary laborers to fill the existing available jobs.
The BLS reported that there were 327,000 open construction jobs in the U.S. as of September 2019. Although the demand for construction projects is expected to continue, the current trends suggest the need for skilled workers in the industry will continue to grow.
Pushing Workers Beyond What Is Safe
As the construction industry sees continued growth, contractors are forced to do more work with less labor. To keep things running smoothly and the jobs on schedule, contractors may ask their labor crews to work longer hours, perform tasks they might not normally take on, do work with less help than normal, and take other shortcuts. Additionally, having fewer workers on the job site means fewer eyes and ears around to identify and address potential safety concerns. Tasks on construction sites must be undertaken with great care to avoid serious injuries or work-related deaths, and pushing workers to do more in less time may result in them overlooking safety precautions or taking unnecessary risks.
Cutting Corners to Remain Productive
To keep up with their work schedules, construction site employers may cut corners, which may put their work crews at risk for suffering serious on-the-job injuries. For instance, workers may be asked to perform tasks in confined spaces without a spotter, cleaning tasks may be put off, or under-qualified workers may be tasked with inspecting equipment and the job sites. Taking shortcuts, particularly with regards to safety measures on the construction site, may add significantly to the dangers inherent with working in the construction industry.
Filling Jobs with Inexperienced Workers
Laborers on construction sites must not only know how to perform their job duties, but they must also understand the unique safety concerns they face in the workplace and how to avoid occupational accidents. Having a depleted pool of qualified workers, some construction employers have turned to filling their vacant jobs with inexperienced laborers. Without the appropriate training, however, workers who lack experience in the construction industry may not notice dangerous working conditions or situations on the job site, which could result in serious injuries for them or others on the job.
Improving Job Site Safety
Although employers in the construction industry cannot do much to shore up the labor shortages, they can take steps to help ensure the safety of their workers. Already, many employers in the industry have started offering higher wages and more tempting benefit packages to attract qualified workers back to the field. Employers must also create a working environment where safety is a priority. To this end, they should establish, emphasize, and enforce safety protocols. Additionally, contractors should provide initial training to get entry-level workers up to speed and conduct ongoing training to ensure their workforce stays sharp.
Workers on construction sites may also take steps to ensure their safety, despite the labor shortages. They should take care to stay aware of the tasks before them, the areas they are working in, and those around them, particularly when using heavy equipment or driving vehicles on the worksite. Construction workers should also make certain they always wear the appropriate safety equipment; this may include hardhats, gloves, closed-toe shoes, and eye protection. It is also important for workers to be familiar with their employers’ safety protocols and to adhere to them when on the job.