We've all seen the typical construction posture: bent forward from the waist, legs straight, knees locked, working at ground level, hammering away. Muscles in the back and legs are overstretched, overexerted, held in this awkward position for many long hot hours in the sun…Can this be helped or is this posture inherent to the construction industry? What can be done to help so many in this industry?

I recently attended the ASSE Conference (American Society of Safety Engineers) in Anaheim and went to every session I could find on construction safety. In one of the breakout sessions, I stumbled into a forum on safety concerns among those in the construction industry. Wow, did I hear tremendous amounts of frustration and concern from owners and those doing the hiring in the construction industry!

The biggest issue vocalized was the large number of back injuries in construction. Over the last few years, the economy and building industry in general have been on an upswing and construction business has been relatively busy. Most employers have been actively seeking bodies to place on their construction sites. Some expressed concern that hey were now hiring "at the bottom of the barrel." In clarifying this further, they felt they were hiring workers that they wouldn't have given a second look at years ago. Many were concerned that this lack of selectiveness had created a dilemma: They had bodies on the job but when they hired these bodies they also hired in their past back injuries.

Another issue brought up at the forum was that of the "aging construction worker". Many employers expressed concerns for those employees who'd been loyal to their company for 20 or 30 years, but have experienced that as time goes on, the back goes out. What do you do with these employees who've given you the best years of their life and now they are a drain on the payroll? Construction is a business where the strongest bodies deliver the most service. Physiology tells us that peak strength is achieved at 30 years old. Does this mean that every construction owner should have a policy of not hiring any construction worker over the age of 30? Of course not! Is there anything that can be done to help preserve the back?

Back Injuries In The Construction Industry

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 1999 national data collected showed that general industry had a non-fatal injury and illness rate of 6.3 per 100 FTE's. The construction industry, on the other hand, had a rate of 8.6 per 100 FTE's. The Center to Protect Workers' Rights published a paper in April 2001, "Trends in Work-Related Death and Injury Rates among U.S. Construction Workers, 1992 – 1998, and it was found that nonfatal occupational injury rates have been decreasing in the 1990s and the decrease has been greater for construction than for any other industry, except possibly manufacturing (Ruser 1998; Karr 2000).

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