Although U.S. construction workers are safer now than they have been in a quarter of a century, the fact is these professionals are still at high risk for work-related injuries to their nerves, joints, tendons, and muscles. That’s according to a new study by The Center for Construction Research and Training, headquartered in Maryland.
These types of injuries, most commonly in the form of strains and sprains, typically happen because employees are overworked. They are also exposed to excessive amounts of twisting, bending, vibrations, and situations when they need to contort their bodies into awkward positions. Resulting conditions are known as “work-related musculoskeletal disorders,” or WMSDs for short. The public doesn’t hear much about these conditions, despite their pervasiveness among those in construction, since they don’t make for punchy headlines. You’re far more likely to hear about a major fall or a collision involving large vehicles than you are to hear about a worker who suffered an elbow sprain.
Still, the effect of this on individual workers and the industry as a whole is undeniable. The study revealed the loss of wages for private construction workers – both salaried and hourly – was $46 million in 2014, the most recent year for which figures were available. And while there are workers in many different injuries who are at risk for musculoskeletal injuries, workers employed in construction steadily have the highest risk of them all.
The No. 1 cause of musculoskeletal injuries among construction workers? Overexertion, researchers say. The area most affected by this was the worker’s back. Work-related back injuries accounted for 40 percent of all musculoskeletal injuries suffered by workers in construction.
So while we often discuss ergonomics in the context of office workers, this research shows that proper ergonomics need to be explored by those in the construction industry if there is any hope of reducing these work injuries.
Study authors in this instance analyzed data from the Survey of Occupational Illnesses from 1992 to 2014, as well as the population survey for those years and occupational employment statistics from 1997 through 2014.
What they discovered was that musculoskeletal injuries among construction workers dropped substantially between those years, from 55,000 to about 18,000. But this has to be taken with a grain of salt because every other type of construction injury fell during that time too. One of the primary takeaways here is that fully a quarter of all non-deadly construction injuries over the course of this study period were attributed to WMSD.
Study authors believe these figures are actually low estimates because there is evidence a significant number of musculoskeletal injuries aren’t ever reported by workers, especially if they don’t result in hospitalization.
There is also some evidence that we may see an uptick in these work injuries in the years to come because it was shown that age and the number of years on the job were both factors that contributed to a heightened risk of a WMSD. The overall percentage of musculoskeletal injuries reported by workers in construction between the ages of 55 and 64 increased from 6.4 percent to 11.5 percent. These injuries were also more common among workers who had been in the field for five years or more. Given that the U.S. population is expected to age exponentially in the next 25 years as the baby boomer generation gets older and lives longer, we anticipate seeing many more of these types of claims because these individuals are working longer too.
This is another reason we may have seen the average recovery period for WMSDs stretch from eight days to 13 days. Older workers take longer to recover.
Although these types of injuries were prevalent among all types of workers in construction, those most heavily affected included those who worked as heating-and-cooling mechanics, sheet metal workers, cement masons, and construction helpers.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Construction workers still at high risk for strains and sprains, Jan. 16, 2017, By Shereen Lehman, Reuters
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