In construction, perfect conditions have aligned to create a gigantic boom. Yahoo has termed America a ‘massive housing estate’, as private and public construction firms seek to capitalize on the trend of high house prices, wealth accumulation and low mortgage rates. As construction ramps up, so do safety concerns. There was already a shortage of health and safety professionals as a result of COVID-19, and these roles haven’t been spontaneously filled due to the easing off of restrictions and death counts. With that in mind, action needs to be taken to protect at-risk construction workers.
New risks and threats
While health and safety has often only been concerned with physical threats, there is a growing understanding that properly protecting employees needs to encompass a lot more than that. Safety and Health Magazine recently reported a big surge in the number of construction workers reporting mental health concerns. Given the dangerous nature of their work, this becomes a workplace health and safety issue, and this has enhanced the risk they face. For instance, the CDC reports that Austin-based construction workers now experience five times higher risk of injury than prior to the pandemic. Similarly, in New York, which typically a strong area when it comes to construction safety laws, the risk has risen 33%. Private litigation has been key. In both New York and Austin construction accident lawyer action has had a significant role in applying the law and providing assurance where OSHA, who are thinly spread, cannot. Going a little further for construction workers will help to safeguard their all-round safety, and that of their colleagues.
Expanding the unions
Outside of private litigation, the best historic protections that construction workers could obtain was professional union representation. Membership of unions has been correlated with lower injury rates and better success when suing employers for potential negligence. However, according to Construction Dive, membership rates have only remained consistent – and overall membership is in decline. Unions are controversial in the US, but it is clear that construction unions are a beneficial force. Workers should become affiliated at the first opportunity to safeguard themselves against existential threats, or at least the evidence suggests at much, though clearly union membership entails a range of other responsibilities.
Raising the issue
Given the expediency required to solve the housing crisis, officials and news outlets could be forgiven for not shining a light on unsafe workspaces. Simply put, houses are needed – now – and this will often come at the expense of worker issues. This shouldn’t be the case. As The Atlantic recently highlighted, there is a darker side to many of the shining condos and skyscrapers flying up around the USA. It is of crucial importance, both for the health of workers and the wider national conscience, that these issues are raised and rectified.
Bringing important issues to the fore is a crucial part of public pressure, and it’s a dire moment in the construction industry. Before more serious accidents can happen, a pause needs to occur and employee safety assessed properly. The next generation of houses and homes needs to be built on sustainable and safe hands – not the opposite.