Construction is a dangerous industry. There are many established best practices for protecting workers from physical injury. However, social and behavioral safety factors tend to receive less attention. According to a new article on the CDC’s NIOSH Science Blog, construction managers often overlook psychosocial risks, even though these factors can have a significant impact on worker health and safety.
Physical vs. psychosocial risk factors in construction
OSHA has identified four critical physical design hazards: falls, electric shocks, entrapment hazards, and run-over hazards. The CDC says these four hazards account for 60% of all construction fatalities each year – it’s easy to see why these hazards get so much attention.
Psychosocial risk factors are more difficult to quantify. The CDC says these factors “are the social, organizational, and managerial characteristics of a job that affect the worker’s emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and physiology.” Assessing psychosocial risk factors can be more challenging, but research has shown that they can have effects on both mental and physical health.
The conditions that lead to psychosocial risks
According to the CDC, conditions that can lead to adverse psychosocial factors include:
- Low control over tasks
- Lack of support from supervisors or colleagues
- Dissatisfaction at work
The ComPsych StressPulse report shows that 62% of workers experience high levels of stress with extreme fatigue or feeling out of control. Common causes of stress at work include workload (cited by 41% of workers), people issues (cited by 32% of workers), work-life juggling (cited by 18% of workers) and lack of job security (cited by 9 % of workers).
Workplace stress has always been a problem, but the pandemic has made it worse. The 2021 Stress in America study by the American Psychological Association found that 32% of adults were so stressed about the COVID-19 pandemic that they struggled to make basic decisions. Among millennials, 48% reported high stress levels that interfered with basic decision-making.
The effect of psychosocial risk factors
The CDC says psychosocial risk factors can cause a variety of negative physical and mental health outcomes, including:
- Increased stress
- Poor safety record
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased susceptibility to musculoskeletal disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Substance use
- Mental disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
OSHA says prolonged stress can increase the risk of workplace incidents because stressed and fatigued workers are less attentive to recognizing and avoiding hazards. Additionally, prolonged stress can reduce motivation and focus (resulting in lower productivity levels) and can increase absenteeism and turnover.
These effects can be dangerous on a construction site. A worker who is unmotivated, stressed and exhausted due to poor sleep can make a fatal mistake. This is likely to increase stress and reduce the morale of the entire workforce. If workers rely on alcohol and illegal drugs to manage their stress and mental health issues, the risk of an incident may increase. In addition, high absenteeism rates related to high stress and low morale can put more pressure on other workers, leading to a vicious cycle of high stress levels.
How the construction industry can help control psychosocial risks
Managing psychosocial risks may seem more difficult than managing physical risks, but the CDC has some guidance and resources to help you.
First, you need to understand the psychosocial risk factors in your workplace. Tools including the Effort–Reward Imbalance scale and the Job Content Questionnaire can help.
Then decide which factors you can address. This means looking at the results of questionnaires to see which problems are common among your employees. Then you need to dig deeper into these factors to understand their root causes.
Several resources can help you develop initiatives to address psychosocial risks. These include:
By paying attention to the psychosocial factors that affect construction safety, construction managers can take control of their risk management and their costs. Having the right building insurance is also crucial. BNC provides insurance coverage designed for the construction industry. Read more.