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Connecting the Dots Between Construction Safety and Labor Trends

Construction Labor Hiring Training Cycle

These days the job market in the construction industry is different than what we’re used to. The number of available workers in the labor pool has shrunk, employee mobility seems to have skyrocketed, and companies appear to be gun-shy about firing workers.

In a recent article for Occupational Health & Safety magazine titled “Construction Safety in the Atypical Wake of Worker Turnover”, safety columnist Ray Prest takes a look at the labor market for construction jobs and concludes that it could have some major ramifications for organizational safety:

There are substantial safety issues at play. More than ever, job vacancies are filled with folks who are new to the construction industry or to the type of work that your company does. Numerous studies have shown that a lack of experience is correlated with a heightened risk of injuries and other incidents. It also increases the number and severity of human factors in the workplace, as the loss of experienced employees can affect team cohesion and communication, leading to more ambiguity and confusion.

It’s a challenge that is likely to persist into the near future, and the effects on EHS outcomes may be felt for years to come.

Prest notes that the best course of action is, unsurprisingly, to offer a full suite of safety training to new hires as quickly as possible. But that’s not always an option, and it isn’t guaranteed to deal with any issues with safety culture or morale that may stem from labor challenges.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other options. These include improving supervisors’ safety capabilities, offering human factors training, focusing more on using workers’ happiness levels to improve safety and generally demonstrating care, as well as implementing low-cost best practices such as construction toolbox talks.

The article notes that many of these measures can reduce employee turnover, which will both mitigate the overall problem as well as reduce the expense and effort associated with worker churn. As Prest puts it, “it’s a lot easier, and cheaper, to train-to-retain employees than it is to replace them over and over again.”

Given the pressures the construction industry is facing with hiring, training, and retaining staff (not to mention the looking safety issues that are outlined in the article), it seems like a wise idea to implement measures that do double-duty in staff retention and injury prevention.

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