Construction

Participating core and specialty programs: Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies, Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies, Center for Occupational Robotics Research, Occupational Health Equity, and Small Business Assistance.

Professional organizations, insurers, workers’ compensation providers, and trade unions use NIOSH information to utilize emerging technologies to reduce musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population* Research Type
A Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) (esp. Back injuries, strains and sprains) Underuse of existing interventions Masonry, concrete, dry wall, roofing, and plumbing workers; laborers; small businesses; vulnerable workers Translation
B Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) (esp. Back injuries, strains and sprains) Emerging technology (e.g., automation, robotics, drones) Communication tower, wind energy, masonry and concrete workers; laborers Basic/etiologic

Intervention

C Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) (esp. Back injuries, strains and sprains) Use of exoskeletons Masonry, concrete, dry wall, roofing, and plumbing workers; laborers; small businesses; vulnerable workers Intervention

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 4.2.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand the benefits and risks of emerging technologies (e.g., automation, robotics, drones) regarding musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers.

Activity Goal 4.2.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions using emerging technologies to prevent musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers.

Activity Goal 4.2.3 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective musculoskeletal injury interventions among construction workers.

Burden

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are common among construction workers due to the nature of the work, which is physically demanding [Schneider et al. 1998]. In 2014, “sprains and strains” represented 27.3% of all construction injuries and illnesses [BLS 2016a,b] while another 17.3% of injuries and illnesses were from “soreness, pain,” related to MSDs. Lifetime risk of “overexertion” injuries in construction is about 21%, so more than 1 in 5 construction workers might be expected to get an overexertion injury during their career [Dong, et al. 2014]. Some of the trades that have elevated rates of overexertion injuries include masonry, concrete, drywall, plumbing, and flooring among others [CPWR 2013]. Back injuries are another concern among construction workers. In 2010, the rate of back injuries among construction workers was 24.5 per 10,000 FTEs compared to 21.4 for all industries combined [CPWR 2013]. Construction trades with the highest rates of back injuries include masonry, roofing, drywall, plumbing, and glass and glazing. Many vulnerable workers have an elevated or disproportionate risk including Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, workers in small businesses, workers, younger (teenage) workers and older (55 and over) workers [CPWR 2013].

The construction workforce is aging with a median age in 2015 of 42.7 years [BLS 2016c]. When older workers are injured, their injuries are more severe injuries and their compensation costs are higher [Dong et al. 2012]. MSDs not only cause days away from work, they also can shorten careers and impact retirement [Welch et al. 2010; LeMasters et al. 2006]. Many construction workers retire in their mid-50s due to MSDs. MSDs are also a main contributor to the pain epidemic [Carnide et al. 2011], which has resulted in the overuse of opioids [DHHS, 2016]. These injuries create an economic burden on workers, their families, companies and the health care system [OSHA, 2015].

Need

Prevention of work-related MSDs has been a major focus of NIOSH research for many years, especially ergonomic interventions [NIOSH 2007, CPWR 2013]. Ergonomic interventions often pay for themselves by improving productivity as well as reducing injuries [Hendricks, 1996]. MSDs are a primary cause of occupational injuries and represent the largest portion of workers compensation costs. However, contractors may not understand the return on investment that comes from making ergonomics changes. Research is needed effectively transfer knowledge and intervention into workplace practices. This includes developing and communicating evidence-based ergonomic prevention and protective measures and graphics-based guidelines.

With changes in technology, novel approaches to risk reduction are being developed. For example, robotics, automation, and exoskeletons (or human augmentation devices) can be used to improve safety and reduce MSD risk factors that can cause back injuries, strains, and sprains. These devices are rapidly appearing in the workplace despite limited research on their effectiveness in reducing MSDs. When new technologies enter the workplace, their impact needs to be studied. Research is needed to identify the costs and benefits of the intervention (including any productivity gains). Research needs to consider the range of potential interventions for a particular issue including engineering and administrative controls and their relative advantages. Translation research is also needed to identify the barriers to adoption and in many cases this data does not exist and needs to be collected. These new technologies have the potential to dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of MSDs in the workplace. Regardless of the work system, interventions must be effective in how they reduce risk.

BLS [2016a]. TABLE R1. Number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by industry and selected natures of injury or illness, private industry, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb4367.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

BLS [2016b]. TABLE R113. Percent distribution of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by industry and selected natures of injury or illness, private industry, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb4479.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

BLS [2016c] Current Population Survey, Table 18b. Employed persons by detailed industry and age. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htmExternal

CarnideExternal N, Hogg-JohnsonExternal S, CôtéExternal P, FurlanExternal A, IrvinExternal E, Van EerdExternal D, KingExternal T [2011]. Early prescription opioid use for musculoskeletal disorders and work: A critical review of the literature. Occup Environ Med 68:A75

CPWR [2013]. The Construction Chartbook. Fifth Ed. Silver Spring, MD: CPWR- the Center for Construction Research and Training, http://www.cpwr.com/publications/construction-chart-bookExternal

DHHS [2016] National Pain Strategy: A comprehensive population health-level strategy for pain. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://iprcc.nih.gov/docs/DraftHHSNationalPainStrategy.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

Dong X, Wang X, Fujimoto A, Dobbin R [2012]. Chronic back pain among older construction workers in the United States: a longitudinal study. Int J of Occup Environ Health 18(2):99-109

Dong X, Ringen K, Welch L, Dement J. [2014]. Risks of a lifetime in construction, part I: traumatic injuries. Am J of Ind Med 57(9):973-83. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22363. Epub 2014 Jul 24

Hendricks H [1996]. Good ergonomics is good economics, https://www.hfes.org/Web/PubPages/goodergo.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

LeMasters GExternal, Bhattacharya AExternal, Borton EExternal, Mayfield LExternal [2006]. Functional impairment and quality of life in retired workers of the construction trades. Exp Aging Res 32(2):227-42

NIOSH [2007]. Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Construction Workers. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2007–122, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-122/pdfs/2007-122.pdfCdc-pdf

OSHA [2015]. Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, https://www.dol.gov/osha/report/20150304-inequality.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

Welch LS, Hunting KL, Haile E, Boden L [2010]. Musculoskeletal and medical conditions among construction roofers – a longitudinal study. Am J Ind Med 53(6):552-60.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018