Emerging from the earthy wafts of fresh timber and rich mineral dust are the beginning formations of a large manufacturing facility near St. Louis. A construction cacophony of buzzing saws, pounding hammers, and instructional command demonstrate that the U.S. economy is healthy. Businesses are expanding and the appetite for construction increasing, although mostly in the private sector. With a national unemployment rate of 4.1%, skilled labor cannot hit the job market quickly enough. For several years, the construction industry has been maneuvering operations to accommodate demand and boost worker numbers with safety and efficiency as a priority.
“Employment and pay in construction have risen more rapidly over the past year than in the economy overall, as the supply of unemployed, experienced workers continues to shrink,” said Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractor Association's Chief Economist. “With unemployment so low overall and in construction, contractors are likely to have increasing trouble filling many types of hourly craft and salaried openings.”
To help with worker shortage changes, shared contracts are streamlining construction projects with risk-sharing, compensation, and costs. From architectural designers, to project stakeholders, to the contractor: project team collaboration has been a common practice over the past years. Some methods in use include putting together prefabricated pieces built offsite, some by 3D printers. This helps remove some of the occupational delays, costs, and hazards due to weather changes. These new collaborations are also improving some areas of construction work safety.
With less onsite construction, there may be opportunities for lessened risks for hazards such as silica dust exposure and more. However, there are still hazards that exist and perhaps new ones as machinery and procedures change on the worksite. Workers still need to keep abreast of the variances, inspections, and rules or guidelines from the construction industry. Most applicable OSHA standards can be found in 29 CFR 1926, Safety and Health Regulations for Construction and General Industry Standard 29 CFR 1910.
No Shortage on Safety
According to construction industry experts, safety is the basis as resilient construction and green design make up at least 60% of projects nationwide. Newer equipment and modern technology is designing out some hazards through automation. Drones are surveying and charting topographical maps, monitoring sites for security and safety, as well as tracking equipment. To help workers with heavy loads, muscle fatigue, and ergonomics, there is an increase use in exoskeleton suits. Technology in education training methods are also advancing. As the construction industry’s worker dynamics and culture vary, languages are easier to communicate via new apps and methods to quickly print large signage and instructional labels in several languages.
While new building products and methods bring significant benefits, it’s important to understand and manage the risks. Workers can gain a better understanding of how modern methods of construction perform through education materials and informative signage and labels. With these new methods delivering significant benefits, ensuring risks are fully understood and managed will provide the necessary confidence to meet construction industry challenges and keep up with demand.