21st Century Occupational Safety and Health Issues

High priority issues identified at CROET’s April, 1998 Conference, and their assessment at the March, 1999 GOSH conference in the CROET minisymposium on construction.


High Priority Issues


  • Training (emphasis on new products)

  • Construction safety

  • Aging workforce


  • Training (emphasis on new products)

  • Construction safety

  • Gender issues*

*The majority of the 1999 symposium participants believed that women were well integrated into the workplace and that this is not a high priority issue, although only one women construction workers was in the audience to represent the views of women.

1998 Issues addressed in 1999 Symposium

MSDSs are essentially not used; making them useful and used is the issue
• Multiple-employer work sites have significant communication problems
• Physical capacity issues regarding ADA requirements and pre-employment screening
• Women in the workforce and limiting risks in women during childbearing years
• New chemicals in the workplace and safety measures to be taken for those chemicals
• Adequate safety notification for new products

1998 Issues NOT addressed in the 1999 Symposium

• Design of safety incentive programs
• Physical capacity issues
• Central clearinghouse for health and safety information
• Risks of chemical exposures and assignments during childbearing years


On April 28, 1998, CROET held a Symposium to identify occupational safety and health (OSH) issues which Oregon will face in the early decades of the next millennium. Experts from throughout Oregon representing labor, industry, and government offered insights into issues they felt would affect Oregon industry, and a panel of national experts contributed issues which could affect the US and therefore Oregon. Between the two panel discussions, workgroups were convened to identify high priority OSH issues for the major industry sectors in the state. The meeting is summarized on this website and a report of the meeting is available from CROET.

CROET’s advisory committee recommended using the high priority issues from 1998 as the subject of future CROET symposia. This page summarizes the comments of one of those symposia, on 21st century issues in construction, held at the 1999 Oregon Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health (GOSH) conference. The meeting began with three presentations: (1) a personal retrospective on construction in Oregon and implications for the future; (2) Oregon OSHA statistics on the types of accidents and injuries seen in construction over the past 5 years; (3) lessons from the Denver airport construction: underreporting concerns. After audience comment on their perspective, the identified high priority issues from the 1998 Symposium workgroups were offered for comment and revision or amplification.

Speakers and Group Discussion (1999)

(a) Wayne Thomas SAIF Corporation

Wayne Thomas has worked in the Oregon construction industry for over two decades. He offered a historical view of construction and his views on future issues in the industry.

Issues in 1999

• Job stress
• Ergonomics
• Violence in the workplace
• Hazard Communication (especially reporting procedures)
• Musculoskeletal disorders
• Exposures (asbestos, lead, silica, etc.)
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Job hazard analysis

Developments Affecting Construction

•New materials and equipment
•Light weight concrete, laser screeds, etc.
•Faster, stronger cranes
•Computers, fax machines, scanners
•Influence of increased competitions, shorter schedules, smaller budgets
•New chemicals (eg, additives to concrete)

Issues of Diversity

•Minority businesses
•Aging workforce
•Preferred workers
•Injured workers (EAIP)

Training and Education

•Safety regulations
•Hazard communication / MSDS
•Job specific pre-task planning
•Drug-free workplace
•Emerging procedures
•Developing the zero-injury philosophy

Next Century

•New legislation
•Continued product development

Discussion following Wayne Thomas’ Presentation

John Rimers, Safety Manager, Hoffman Construction
Attitude problems remain a concernworkers are not concerned about accidents Unions do a good job of initial training and need to take a stronger role in continuing education, especially with workers who have short work assignments on multiple employer construction projects

Tom Clancy of King Construction asked if the BPE Merit Construction could be extended to construction. Ron Drouin of OR OSHA responded that it has been.

Mark Hopkins of BC Company
Continuity is needed with different locals — NICA was one good solution

Phil Lemons — Strimer Sheet Metal —
Partnering is needed, but this is difficult at the local level. Younger workers are more open to partnering than older workers. Electricians provide a good example of partnering; every local puts an emphasis on partnering and training. NICA is an approach intended to bring uniformity to training.

Phil Lemmons:
All sheet metal workers are required to undergo 10 hours of ergonomics training. Emphasis is placed on training the younger generation so that it carries through to the next generation of sheet metal workers.

Commercial construction is unionized and well regulated. Residential construction is not as well regulated nor is it unionized. The residential construction companies have little background in occupational safety and health and don’t ask for help despite ongoing safety and health problems.

Ron Drouin of OR OSHA indicated that the HBA is trying to educate the small employers.

(b) Ron Drouin OR OSHA

Ron Drouin works at OR OSHA where he has a lead role in regulation and inspection of construction in the state.

Between 1993 and 1998 there was a steady increase in the number of employees in construction, from 54,000 to 82,500.

"Struck by" injuries were the most prominent injury between 1994 and 1997.

Construction-related fatalities, by cause between 1993-1997, revealed that the largest number of fatalities occurred as a result of falls from elevations, followed by motor vehicle accidents. However, motor vehicles actually accounted for the largest number of fatalities when the three categories of "motor vehicle accidents," "struck by vehicles" and "caught under vehicles are combined. Together, vehicle accidents and falls account for 80% of the fatalities over the past 5 years in Oregon.

Between 1993 and 1997, the largest number of accidents occurred in people aged 31-35. There was a steady increase in claims between the ages of 36 and 40, when accidents were peaking. Approximately 50% of the 12,000 accident claims occurred in people between the ages of 26-40. The average cost of a claim was $13,000 or about $18 million in the prime group of most experienced workers. In terms of years of tenure in construction, there was a spike in accidents for workers with 1-6 years in the field, after which accidents leveled out.

One way to reduce accidents is to begin safety education in high schools so that safety becomes ingrained prior to starting work.

How will the increase in women and minorities in construction affect safety? For minority workers, language barriers may be the largest problem limiting the effectiveness of communication for educating and training people on safety concerns. For women, technology improvements will continue to eliminate strength limitations, making the workplace safer for both men and women. One example is fall protection because manual loaders are being used more frequently.

Questions of OR OSHA presenter Ron Drouin:

Q: Why not force companies to use the penalty dollars to train the workers?
A: OR OSHA puts penalty dollars into a fund which provides training. OR OSHA does provide training at no cost.

Comment: It seems as if OR OSHA relies less on training and more on supervision to prevent accidents.
Comment: Compliance officers should offer consultation when jobs begin to reduce fear of the compliance officer.

(c) Jim Harris, MD Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU)

Dr. Harris, an occupational physician, had reviewed the reports from the Denver International Airport construction between 1989 and 1994. The cost was $27 billion and some 770 contractors were involved. There was a project-wide safety program, and all Workers Compensation claims passed through a single agency. Everyone was seen at a single medical care program. This ensured a very high level of accuracy in the statistics. The injuries rates at the Denver airport project were consistently higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) overall rates, suggesting that the BLS rates may underreport the actual injury rates in construction.

While most of the government funding for safety is directed to manufacturing, construction has higher accident rates. This leads to the conclusion that some funding should be reallocated to construction safety.

Studies of older workers are conflicting. On the Denver Airport project, older workers had higher injury rates, decade by decade. A Scandinavian study showed that VO2 max was s better predictor than age of injury risk. Older workers may have additional health problems that can, among other things, delay the healing process.

Comments from the Audience were solicited by Dr. Anger (mini-symposium Chair) about questions raised at the 1998 21st Century Symposium.

Aging worker

Different studies suggest greater or less accidents in the older worker. It was suggested that the older worker claims were sometimes more complicated.


•Bilingual education is important. The minorities in Oregon tend to be from Latin America and Russia.
•Cultural issues can be important. An example was that Latin American workers may learn more effectively from group discussion than from lectures.
•Safety issues can be compromised when respect becomes an issue between educated and non-educated.
•Scheduling problems can lead to unsafe processes.
•Dr. Pritchett of OSU suggested that excellent training materials were available through the construction institute


There is more technology that reduce the strength issues that used to limit women in construction.
There is better training and especially better ergonomics.
Women work smart, not trying to brute force solutions to problems

Other Issues

With the shorter time lines, trades tend to be working simultaneously, or "on top of each other." This creates both safety and health problems.

•One issue is the use of chemicals by one trade and the subsequent exposure of other trades (on the crowded job site) who are not familiar with the chemicals nor do they have access to the MSDSs. Planning becomes critical when schedules are compressed. Training becomes a critical issue to limit exposure to chemicals used by other trades.


•They are not used. They are viewed as not user friendly and outdated. It is up to the construction managers to be aware of the problems and provide current information to all trades on a construction site.
•OSHA checks employee knowledge by questioning them about what they need to wear a respirator for.
•Supervisors should be responsible for workers and the chemicals they are using.
•Workers should be able to ask if a chemical will be harmful.
•HAZ-COM training is counterproductive because it uses the worst case scenario which workers tend to think improbable. Should use symbols on the chemical containers warning users of the dangers of those chemicals.

Pre-screening exams

•Need to be job-specific
•Not necessary for MDs to screen in every case
•Job offer precedes medical exam
•ADA needs to be accomodated.

Gender Issues

These are less significant than they used to be.
MSDS are the most cited violations in construction.
Fall protection issues are most important to OSHA, especially ladder safety.

Closing Comments

Focus less on training and more on the desired behavior.
The reporting process is not accurate and not user-friendly.
Construction has always played "catch-up" in the safety area.
Construction is market-driven. High costs = high charges. Jobs go to lower bidders and lower bidders make money by compressing schedules and reducing labor costs. This is seen as becoming more of a problem and validates the need for increased safety training.

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