UF Study: Lax Safety Causes More Home-Building Deaths And Injuries
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The growing number of deaths and injuries that plague the housing construction industry each year could be prevented if management simply followed existing safety rules, a new University of Florida study finds.
“The failure of the residential construction industry to comply with the safety standards enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has allowed an increasing amount of severe injuries and fatalities to persist on the job,” said William Glenn, a UF graduate student in building construction, who did the research.
Ironically, the accident rate has been boosted by the nation’s economic boom of the past decade, which has increased production of single family homes to levels near the record highs after World War II, Glenn said. Annually, hundreds of workers are injured or killed on the job, he said.
Glenn analyzed more than 400 accidents from nine years of OSHA reports, a nationwide database. He also surveyed 37 companies in Florida that are involved in homebuilding about the most common types of serious accidents that occur on housing projects. One large contractor builds 12,500 homes a year.
In addition to not following safety rules, the study found, management often did not provide adequate employee training or proper safety equipment.
An overwhelming majority of the Florida company respondents (92 percent) offered no safety training, and 30 percent had no general safety plan for the firm, Glenn said. More than half (54 percent) did not provide orientation for new workers, he said.
Nationally, nearly half (46 percent) of the total accidents analyzed involved a fall from an elevated surface, Glenn said.
Roofing operations were found to be the most hazardous tasks performed in home construction, with nearly 88 percent of the roofing accidents in the nationwide survey ending in a fatality or requiring hospitalization.
One problem in residential construction is that the roofs are usually pitched — in contrast to flat roofs common to commercial construction. That, along with contractors’ frequent failure to use guard rails during roof work, makes it easy for workers to fall off the side, said Jimmie Hinze, a professor in UF’s Rinker School of Building Construction, who supervised the research.
Most of the roofing accidents analyzed, however, could have been prevented had management and employees followed existing OSHA regulations and guidelines, Glenn said.
OSHA has paid less attention to residential construction than to large commercial contractors because the industry consists primarily of small, family-owned businesses. That makes wide dissemination of safety material difficult, he said.
Hinze, who also is director of UF’s Fluor Program for Construction Safety, believes one way to deal with the problem is to educate contractors about what can happen to a company if one of its workers is killed on the job. “I would find it very sad to find out that the house I lived in took the life of a worker because someone didn’t take precautions,” he said. “It would be like a bloodstain in the driveway that simply would not come out.”
Orientation for new workers is critical, Hinze said, something virtually all multimillion dollar contractors do, unlike the 46 percent rate for Florida’s residential construction industry found in the UF study.
“When you have a transient-type work force that is here today and gone tomorrow, people don’t put any effort into training,” he said. “Yet you need to quickly acclimate the workers because it’s usually that first day that’s most troublesome. They have to ask where the tools are, where the drinking corner is, everything is a question mark. They have so many questions that they’re in a daze.”
Improvements in training and worker orientation have to be done within a company culture that recognizes the importance of complying with regulations, Hinze said. In the ‘80s, some companies began to see a real payback in being safe, he said.
Some homebuilders are safety conscious, he said, adding that “if workers are safe, and they feel comfortable about being safe, they’re going to do a better job.”