The habits of construction workers—including smoking and binge drinking—lead to higher health risks, a new study shows.

But if construction managers, who also have a penchant for risky behavior, would set better examples for their workers, they could help reduce these risks, the study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health shows.

Behaviors that contribute to higher health risks are more prevalent among construction workers compared to workers in other industries, NIOSH concluded.

To begin with, construction workers are in physically demanding jobs that expose them to chemicals and workplace hazards, with falls remaining the leading cause of work-related deaths in construction—about one-third of the industry’s fatalities.

Earlier studies suggested that construction workers who exhibit certain health risk behaviors may be more likely to be injured on the job.

NIOSH researchers were interested in determining how common health risk behaviors are among this workforce.

Key Findings

Their main findings include:

  • Smoking, smokeless tobacco use, binge drinking, no leisure-time physical activity, and not always using a seatbelt were significantly more prevalent among construction workers than the general workforce
  • A sixth health risk behavior—getting less than seven hours of sleep a day—was significantly less prevalent among construction workers as compared to the general workforce
  • Construction managers had elevated prevalences for smoking, smokeless tobacco use, binge drinking, and not always using a seatbelt
  • Carpenters, construction laborers, and roofers all had significantly elevated prevalences for five of the six behaviors
  • Roofers, as well as electrical power-line installers and repairers, had significantly elevated prevalences for binge drinking
  • Operating engineers, who use and maintain heavy earthmoving equipment, had very high rates for smokeless tobacco use

Behavioral Changes

The study found that construction managers could curtail this behavior by engaging in less risky behaviors themselves.

“Because of their important leadership roles, behavior changes among construction managers could have positive effects on the safety and health culture in the construction industry,” the report noted.

The survey covered 38 different construction occupations, including laborers, project managers, those in construction trades, and contractors, and was conducted by telephone across 32 states, from 2013 to 2016.

Due to the high prevalence of some health risk behaviors, researchers emphasize that construction workers may benefit from targeted interventions and health programs specific to their particular occupation to reduce these behaviors, particularly since they are also potentially exposed to workplace-specific hazards.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).