Study identifies nonoccupational health risks for construction workers

NIOSH program explores link between occupational health and personal well-being
Construction workers are more likely to use tobacco products than workers in other industries, a study found. (Photo: Auremar, Dreamstime)

Construction workers face health risks on the job, but are they more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors away from the jobsite? A report conducted jointly between National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), identified five unhealthy or risky behaviors that were more common among construction workers than the general workforce.

[Related: Majority of construction workers at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection: CPWR]

NIOSH’s Total Worker Health Program encourages workplace leaders to consider the impact of workplace safety on workers’ overall health, not just their exposure to specific risks or injuries.

“Total Worker Health is an approach that integrates occupational health and safety (such as preventing injuries or exposures to chemical and physical hazards) with promotion of personal healthful behaviors (such as not using tobacco, eating a healthful diet, drinking in moderation, and using a seat belt),” Winifred Boal, research epidemiologist in the Division of Field Studies and Engineering at NIOSH and lead author of the report, told Colorado Builder.

The study found construction workers were less likely than those in other industries to engage in those healthful behaviors. The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Occupational Health & Safety magazine reported on the findings in early July.

Smoking and smokeless tobacco use were more common among construction workers, as was binge drinking, according to the report. Construction workers were also less likely to wear a seatbelt or engage in physical activity in their free time.

[Related: New guidance addresses 4 construction health issues]

One area where construction workers are more likely than the general workforce to take care of themselves is in their sleep habits. The study found construction workers were significantly more likely to get at least seven hours of sleep than workers in other industries, OHS reported.

The study broke down findings by 38 different construction jobs, according to OHS. It found that carpenters, laborers and roofers had “significantly elevated prevalences” than their peers for risky behaviors, excluding short sleep. Construction managers had “elevated prevalences” of smoking and smokeless tobacco use, binge drinking and not using a seatbelt.

Roofers, power line installers and repairers had tendencies to binge drink, and equipment operators had “very high rates” of smokeless tobacco use, OHS reported.

Boal encouraged construction managers, industry leaders and supervisors to model healthy behaviors for their employees.

“Safety culture begins at the top, and employees might be more likely to adopt healthful behaviors when their leaders exhibit and promote these behaviors themselves,” she said in an email.

“This can include such actions as setting and enforcing [a] tobacco ban and seat belt use policies, incorporating health promotion programs (such as smoking cessation), and identifying and addressing work-related stressors that could lead to employees’ health risk behaviors.”

The study, published in May, did not set out to determine whether these health risks were linked with on-the-job injuries, but other research indicates that nonoccupational behaviors are correlated with workplace injuries.

A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health found that some offsite health behaviors were correlated with workplace injuries. The study found smokers were 38% more likely to suffer a workplace injury than nonsmokers. Obese and overweight workers were 34% and 13%, respectively, to suffer a workplace injury than peers with lower BMIs. Cocaine use increased the risk of a workplace injury by 16%, but drinking and marijuana use were not found to be risk factors.

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

Danielle Andrus has 341 posts and counting. See all posts by Danielle Andrus

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