Center for Asbestos Safety

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health


Construction is a large, dynamic, and intricate industry sector that plays an important role in the U.S. economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies 20 Construction Trade occupations: 1). Boilermakers; 2).Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons; 3). Carpenters; 4). Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers; 5). Cement masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers; 6). Construction and building inspectors; 7). Construction equipment operators; 8). Construction laborers; 9). Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers; 10). Electricians; 11). Elevator, installers and repairers 12). Glaziers; 13). Hazardous materials removal workers; 14). Insulation workers; 15). Painters and paperhangers; 16). Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters; 17). Plasterers and stucco masons; 18). Roofers; 19).Sheet metal workers and 20). Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers. The Construction sector comprised an estimated 8 million paid workers in 2005.

Construction workers and employers build roads, houses, and workplaces; repair and maintain the nation’s physical infrastructure. The work is done under changing conditions involving hazardous tasks and circumstances such as work at height or in excavations or around heavy machinery. Injuries under such circumstances are inevitable. Leading to fatalities include falls, electrocutions, struck-by events, and caught in or crushed by events. The fatality injuries for construction are fourth highest behind agriculture, mining, and transportation. Construction workers have high rates of work-related injuries and deaths in comparison with other industry sectors.

For the last decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a comprehensive research and prevention program directed to eliminate occupational diseases, injuries, and fatalities affecting construction workers through high quality research, practical solutions, partnerships, intervention and translating the knowledge gained into products, solutions and services that will be adopted in the workplace. The Construction Program has sought to ensure its relevance and impact through: 1). A multidisciplinary public health-based approach; Reliance on injury and illness data as a program driver. 2) Innovative activities tailored to the unique characteristics of the construction industry. 3). A collaborative approach to research and prevention via active partnerships 4). Innovations in targeted dissemination, diffusion, and other "research-to-practice" efforts.
NIOSH sponsors research and training through its extracurricular programs, which complement the Institute's intramural programs. Support is also provided for extramural construction research projects conducted by academic and other researchers through grants and cooperative agreements. The creativity and special resources available in the extramural community make these programs an important component in achieving a National goal to have safe jobs and healthy workers.

Partnerships have also been an integral part of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Program for the Construction industry sector. The contributions from customers and stakeholder groups, who have inherent knowledge and concern about the safety and health of workers in the sector, helps in setting research priorities. Collaborative research with the NIOSH partners may include in-kind contributions that help to leverage NIOSH research dollars. Partners also add expertise or specialized experience to the research team, which benefits the research, analysis, interpretation, and communication of the results. In recent years, there has been an increase in multiple partner projects that bring together various key players involved with a given construction issue.

The National Research Agenda (NORA), a partnership program to stimulate innovative research and improved workplace practices, has become a framework for occupational safety and health research in the nation since 1996. The NORA seeks to facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to identify the most critical issues in workplace safety and health and to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice through diverse parties’ collaboration. Representing all stakeholders, the councils use an open process to set goals, develop strategies, encourage partnerships, and promote improved workplace practices. Eight NORA Sector Programs represent industrial sectors, and twenty-four Cross-sector Programs organized around adverse health outcomes, statutory programs and global efforts.

The NIOSH and its partners have completed numerous research projects to address construction safety and health issues. The NIOSH Research Projects are the following: Harness Design and Sizing, Electrical Injury Prevention System, Lab Testing of Adjustable Roof Bracket-Safety Rail Assembly, Sensory-Enhanced Balance Control at Elevated Workplaces, Evaluating Roadway Construction Work Zone Interventions, Tag-based Proximity Warning System for Construction Equipment, A Performance Evaluation of Power Line Proximity Warning Systems, Preventing Deaths and Injuries in Excavation and Trench Work, Control Technology Assistance for the Construction Industry, Hearing Loss Intervention for Carpenters, Evaluation of Safety Training for Spanish-Speaking Roadway Workers, Parkinson's Disease: Welders & Workers Exposed to Manganese, Molecular mechanisms and chemoprevention of Ultraviolet (UV)-induced carcinogenesis, Global Silica Information Dissemination, Toolbox Lessons for Small Business Construction Supervisors, Evaluation of Trenching/Evacuation Safety Awareness Training, Development of Workplace Solutions and Other Publications, Health Effects of Asphalt Exposure: Development of a REL, Evaluating Toolbox Training in Construction and Mining and many more.

The review and evaluation of the NIOSH Construction Program are done by the national academies. Since the NIOSH understands that external expert review is one of the most valid and accepted methods of evaluating research programs. NIOSH has requested that the National Academies evaluate NIOSH research programs with respect to their impact, relevance, and future directions. The National Academies was asked to evaluate what NIOSH research programs are producing and to determine the extent to which NIOSH research is responsible for changes in the workplace that reduce the risk of occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths. This evaluation is being undertaken by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine in the National Academies.

Last 4 years, the rate of fatalities has reduced significantly. These declines were driven by changes among specialty trades contractors (NAICS 238), whose total recordable case incidence rate declined from 7.3 to 6.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2004. The number of cases and the incidence rate remained relatively unchanged in 2004 for the two remaining three-digit NAICS industries within Construction-NAICS 236 (Construction of Buildings) and NAICS 237 (Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction).

The construction program has developed and evolved over time. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a continuous vision for the future of the Construction to produce highly effective prevention practices and products which are adopted in the workplace. The NIOSH construction program will begin to systematically collect intermediate outcome and ultimate outcome information over the coming year.

The NIOSH Construction Program is in the process of developing strategic goals to guide the construction program research and partnership efforts over the next decade. They are currently transitioning to developing and using a set of strategic goals to guide project planning and partnerships in future years. Goals take this approach a step further by identifying specific outcomes that NIOSH wants to target, performance measures for evaluating progress in meeting the outcome goals, and intermediate goals to describe the necessary steps that need to be performed to accomplish the goal. Setting goals is challenging for the following reasons: 1). It forces us to focus on a subgroup of issues where the NIOSH think they can make an impact - a long list would spread our resources too thin to accomplish the goals. Not every worthwhile topic can be included. 2). It is difficult to develop performance measures. Available injury statistics have limitations, and exposure and health outcome measures are typically not available. 3). It is ambitious for NIOSH to set goals to achieve outcomes such as reductions in a national fatality rate. NIOSH is a research agency so the program don't often directly influence outcomes, thus, they must partner well and influence other groups to show results.

Center for Asbestos
Safety in the Workplace