Completed Research

Longitudinal Study of Construction Worker Health Across the Lifespan (Completed – 2009-2014)

Xiuwen (Sue) Dong, DrPH

Ph: 301-578-8500 ext.8528
[email protected]

Research Team

Xuanwen Wang, PhD; Julie Largay, MPH

The research team conducted a series of studies through this project, focusing on the aging workforce in construction. The highlights include:
Aging is Increasingly Evident in the Construction Industry

The average age of construction workers jumped to 41.5 years in 2010, two years older than in 2007, and 5.5 years older than 25 years ago. Demographic changes are reflected in the injury data. The age group suffering the largest proportion of both fatal and nonfatal work injuries has shifted from those aged 25-34 years in 1992 to those aged 45-54 years in 2010. The injury types and patterns differ significantly among age groups. While older workers had a lower rate of nonfatal injuries than younger workers, they spent more days away from work after an injury, which significantly increased their workers’ compensation costs.

Chart 1 - Average age of workers
Chart 2 - Median days away from work by age group
Lifestyle factors associated with better health among construction workers

Construction workers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than workers in other industries, particularly younger construction workers. However, construction workers with healthy lifestyle habits – for instance, those who refrained from smoking, exercised, slept an average of 7 to 9 hours per night – were more likely to report excellent or very good health, when compared to those with unhealthy lifestyles. Initial findings from this study were presented at the 141st Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

Lifetime Risk

Nearly all construction workers will experience one or more work-related injuries or illnesses over their lifetime, as well as a greater risk of premature death. The risk is even higher for workers employed in some occupations, and those who are of Hispanic origin. The presentation of the main findings at the 139th Annual Meeting of the APHA was selected for a News Release at the meeting and attracted a wide range of attention from the media and general public.

Chronic Diseases and Functional Limitations among Older Construction Workers

Working primarily in construction trades exacerbates the usual decline in overall health, increasing likelihood of functional limitations, arthritis, back problems, chronic lung disease, and stroke in later years. The gap in these health problems between construction trade workers and white-collar workers increases over time. These findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Chronic Back Pain among Older Construction workers

Another major study based on longitudinal analysis found that nearly 40% of older construction workers over the age of 50 suffered from persistent back pain or problems. Longest-held jobs in construction, high physical efforts, and job stress significantly increased the odds of back disorders. These findings were published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Fatal Falls among Older Construction Worker

The rate of work-related deaths steadily increases with age. In 11 out of 14 construction occupations, the risk of fatal falls is significantly higher in workers aged 55+ than in younger workers. The fatal fall rate for older roofers (the highest-risk occupation) was 60.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), nearly triple the rate of 23.2 per 100,000 FTEs for younger roofers (under age 55). Falls from roofs accounted for nearly one-third of construction fatal falls overall, but falls from ladders caused a larger proportion of deadly falls in the older decedents than in the younger group. These findings were published in Human Factors.