If warehouses are not being built as fast as some would like, there is a good reason: The labor shortage in the construction industry is slowing down work and in fact has grown so severe that it is endangering worker safety.
This is according to the third quarter USG Corp. and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index. About 88% of contractors surveyed expect to feel at least a moderate impact from the workforce shortages over the next three years. More than half (57%) expecting the impact will be high to very high.
The quarterly report draws on surveys of more than 2,700 commercial construction decision-makers.
At least 80% of contractors say the shortage has an impact on worker and jobsite safety. The lack of skilled workers was cited as the No. 1 factor increasing jobsite safety risks by 58%.
The report also found that addiction and substance abuse issues have become a factor in decreasing worker and jobsite safety. Almost 40% of contractors say they are highly concerned about the safety impacts of worker use/addiction to opioids, followed by alcohol (27%) and marijuana (22%).
Notably, the report showed that while nearly two-thirds of contractors have strategies in place to reduce the safety risks presented by alcohol (62%) and marijuana (61%), only half have strategies to address their top substance of concern: opioids.
The opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy $95 billion in 2016 and could account for approximately 20% of the observed decline in men’s labor force participation, the researchers note. Efforts at all levels have been mounted to attack the problem, ranging from individual employer initiatives to a number of legislative proposals.
“The opioid crisis has both human and economic costs,” says Neil Bradley, chief policy officer of the Chamber.
As contractors grapple with a scarcity of skilled workers, the survey findings also show that a majority of construction employers are working to improve the overall safety culture on their jobsites (63%) and at their firms’ offices (58%).
However, the indicators reported to have the highest impact on improving safety culture and outcomes are ones that are found to engage employees throughout an entire organization, the researchers point out.
This includes developing training programs for all levels of workers (67%), ensuring accountability across the organization (53%), and empowering and involving employees (48%).
Other indicators include improving communication (46%), demonstrating management’s commitment to safety (46%), improving supervisory leadership (43%) and aligning and integrating safety as a value (42%), the researchers reveal.
“Construction projects are increasingly complex and technical, which makes adequate skills
essential to a safe work environment,” the report says. As a result, it isn’t surprising that contractors say the top factor increasing safety risk on the jobsite is a lack of workers with sufficient skills.
More than two-thirds of general contractors (68%) rated a lack of workers with sufficient skills as a top three safety risk factor, compared with less than half (45%) of trade contractors.
Regionally, contractors in the West (67%) most frequently select the lack of workers with sufficient skills as a major safety risk factor. However, only 25% are likely to consider shorter construction schedules a serious risk compared with builders in other regions.
Around one-third of contractors in the Northeast (34%) and West (31%) also reported that they have found language barriers within a workforce to constitute a leading safety risk.