How Is The Construction Industry Handling Covid-19?

A new analysis by Construction Dive asks whether the construction industry has fought the spread of Covid-19 as well as conventional wisdom would suggest.

As the article notes, a potpourri of academic research, public health data, and media reports indicate that the industry has not fared so well. There have been concerning outbreaks across the country, with construction workplaces having the third highest number of outbreaks in Washington and Michigan, and the second highest number of clusters in Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile academic research indicates that Texas construction workers are five times likelier to be hospitalized as a result of Covid-19 than workers in other sectors, and a CDC study found that construction sites had the second highest number of cases in Utah.

While construction sites have generally been deemed essential workplaces, experts believe that their mitigation efforts—health screenings, PPE, social distancing—may not be enough to protect workers and communities from the spread of Covid-19. As an official at the Centers for Disease Control told Construction Dive, ““Outbreaks in construction sites may be very common… Capturing data on workplace outbreaks has been challenging for a lot of health departments, so national level data is not available.”

One Texas-based safety expert suggested that there may be outbreaks at construction sites that aren’t even being reported, perhaps due to the construction’s culture of working through illness, as well as a fear that if workers report their exposures, they’ll lose out on work. “There’s every incentive to just ignore it and go to work, and no incentive to report it and stay home,” this expert, safety consultant Russell Carr, told Construction Dive. “People are just continuing to go to work.”

One author of the study of Texas construction workers suggested that construction worksites may not be consistently performing mitigation practices, such as mask-wearing, distancing, and hand-washing. “I don’t want to generalize and say that all construction work sites are not doing enough, because we know that’s not true,” he said, noting that larger worksites often have more resources to handle mitigation efforts than smaller worksites. Others note that the high rate of outbreaks among construction workers may be the result of socializing out of work. “Really the challenge here is that there is sort of the unique demographics of the construction industry, particularly in Austin, and kind of living conditions and social settings are more of a factor than the lack of jobsite safety precautions,” one expert told Construction Dive.

Another expert noted that it’s difficult to monitor and influence workers’ conduct when they’re not at work, and a study by the National Institute for Occupation Safety indicated that construction workers may be  at a higher risk of Covid-19 infection due to six “health risk behaviors”: “smoking, smokeless tobacco use, binge drinking, no leisure-time physical activity, not always using a seatbelt and getting less than seven hours of sleep a day.”

To read more about the construction industry’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, visit Construction Dive here.

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