Ergonomics for Construction Workers

November 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

One of the pervasive and debilitating physical risks for California construction workers is repetitive motion injuries, sprains, and strains, otherwise known as MSDs or Musculoskeletal Disorders. Unfortunately, the nature of construction work makes it nearly inevitable that a high percentage of workers will suffer from tendonitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other form of MSD. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nearly 40% of all construction injuries fall into the category of Musculoskeletal Disorders.

These injuries are costly for both employers and workers. According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, employee compensation for MSD injuries topped $50 billion in 2009. Without question, mitigating these injuries needs to be a top priority for the construction industry.

The best and possibly the most common-sense solution to preventing MSD injuries is ergonomics. Simply put, applying ergonomics in construction means making sure that the human body can meet the demands of the workplace – in other words, fitting the job to the worker. For managers, this means ensuring that tools, equipment, and job assignments are well designed and fit the physical capabilities of their employees.

Some of the most common construction tasks that cause pain include:

  • Roofing
  • Hammering
  • Installing carpet
  • Drilling overhead
  • Lifting sheetrock
  • Lifting mason bricks

In these instances and any other jobs that cause physical pain, OSHA suggests performing an ergonomic job analysis to determine what job element is putting the worker at risk of an MSD injury. Most often, the motions causing the worker harm include repetitive movements, pushing or pulling, lifting something heavy, bending the neck or back, or reaching overhead.

Other risk factors that can cause MSD injuries include extreme temperatures, awkward postures, excessive force, vibration, and poor work organization.

No one solution will solve every workplace injury risk. However, construction companies can make a good start by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as better tools and materials. In addition, work methods, work organization, and MSD training programs should be reviewed, revised, and upgraded as necessary.

Green Roofs in California–the Final Option?

October 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

As early as the 1980’s, California’s Department of Energy conducted ‘cool roof’ studies of reflective rooftop coatings designed to decrease heat absorption and lower energy costs. The results showed significant energy savings of 7-15%. At the same time, researchers discovered that vegetated or ‘green roofs’ could save energy and reduce the overall air temperature in urban areas.

Fast forward to 2001–cool roof technology (including foam roofs, BUR systems, modified bitumen, and single-ply membranes as well as reflective coatings) became the standard in California to help deal with the massive demands for energy that often resulted in rolling blackouts. Solar panels were emerging at this time as a viable energy-saving option.

Fast forward again to 2021—green roof technology, which had lagged behind standard cool roof tech, has emerged forcefully as our best current roofing option to conserve energy and combat soaring urban temperatures. While solar panels are popular as an energy-saving measure, they lack the atmosphere cooling ability of green roofs.

Though the U.S. is slow to the party, green roofs have been widely and effectively used in Europe for over 40 years. The advantages are many.

Green roofs–

  • provide a renewable energy-efficient resource
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • absorb stormwater
  • boost efficiency of rooftop mechanical equipment by reducing air temperature
  • filter air, improving the quality
  • reduce the heat trapped in urban settings (urban heat island effect)
  • improve sound absorption on top floors of the building
  • return $2 in benefits for every $1 spent

There are two main reasons we have been slow to adopt green roof technology–cost and complexity of installation. According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, a 21,000 sq. ft. green roof cost roughly $100,000 more than a conventional roof–a substantial upfront cost for property owners. At the same time, the study reported that the green roof would reduce energy needs sufficiently to save $200,000 over its lifetime. Note that loans through the PACE program offer long-term, fixed-rate loans for properly assessed clean energy financing in 21 states.

In broad terms, green roofs are defined as vegetation planted over a waterproofing system on a flat or nearly flat roof. A green roof is considered either extensive (less than 6” deep and less than 35 lbs./sq. ft when soil is saturated) or intensive (6” or deeper, roughly 50-300 lbs./sq ft when soil is saturated).

Installers must take into account the weight load on the roof and the reliability of the waterproofing system, as after construction, leaks are notoriously difficult to pinpoint. The intensive green roofs typically found on urban buildings require expertly installed irrigation and drainage systems.

Intensive green roofs are complex, painstaking to install, and typically consist of these eight layers in order:

  • a variety of vegetation
  • a growing medium
  • a filter membrane
  • a drainage layer
  • a waterproof/root repellant roofing membrane support
  • thermal insulation
  • vapor control
  • structural roof support.

Increasingly, major cities are establishing policies to promote green roofs. In 2017, San Francisco led all major cities in implementing a mandate requiring green roofs on 15-30% of new construction. Today, California cities from Berkeley and Bakersfield to Los Angeles and San Francisco are promoting urban green roofs.

Environmental Sustainability in Construction

September 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

The need for sustainable action in all aspects of life is nowhere more significant than in California for a variety of reasons. California ranks second in the emission of greenhouse gases. Most of the state’s population lives along potential earthquake fault lines. The current drought affecting many areas of the state is considered by many to be an effect of climate change brought on by human activity. The nation’s second-largest city, Los Angeles, uses far distant and vulnerable water sources such that climate change can put its very existence at risk. Growth in the agricultural industry competes for available water so that the economic impact of climate change threatens a vital industry. The state continues to increase its population. The effect on the environment of additional residents, homes, and businesses combine to make sustainable environmental efforts crucial in every aspect of human activity.

Nowhere is this drive to sustainable living more critical than in the construction industry. Government has lead the way with legislation such as CalGreen, which sets home energy targets for residences and homes and sets a date by which all newly constructed residences must be net- zero and a decade later date by which all new non-residential buildings must meet this standard.

It also requires that LEED Silver compliance be achieved for new or remodeled buildings. Individual cities in the state have set even more stringent requirements as they confront the need for a sustainable environment.

Sustainable construction has several goals:

  • Conserving energy
  • Improving the health of occupants
  • Achieving a reduction in maintenance or replacement costs
  • More flexible design

Construction companies have modified many aspects of their work with new products that meet green standards with design requirements before them. The selection of building materials has changed from finding the cheapest items to a broader consideration. In selecting materials, these factors are now considered:

  • Energy-efficient – builds with materials that use the least possible energy to function.
  • Conserve water – systems, and materials which lessen the use of water.
  • Resource efficiency – seeks to choose recycled, natural, and plentiful materials made with an energy-efficient manufacturing system, locally sourced, and longer life expectancy.
  • Indoor air quality – uses materials that are non-toxic to humans, emit no or few chemical emissions, are less likely to be affected by moisture, low maintenance.
  • Affordability – considers the total cost of construction with sustainable products compared to the same construction with conventional ones.

Sustainable construction is beyond standards and the selection of environmentally friendly materials. The construction firms that create buildings to these standards with these materials also create a sustainable environment. Several practices work toward this goal.

  • Managing construction debris to recycle wherever possible
  • Conserving energy during construction on lighting and equipment operations
  • Recycling food packaging, wrapping materials from construction materials
  • Cutting materials to maximize use and minimize waste
  • Reuse existing materials wherever possible
  • Managing water on-site to reduce waste
  • Choosing green materials preferentially

With the increasing focus on sustainable construction, there has been a substantial increase in

the demand for construction workers trained in this approach. As the size of the industry grows, so will its workforce. According to a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) survey reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a million construction workers worked in this industry sector. That number is expected to more than triple in the coming years.

Many training programs have been developed to support skilled workers in this field, and it provides a bright future for career options.

Climate Change and California Construction Workers

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Climate change and extreme weather have a well-documented overall impact on multiple aspects of human health and well-being. However, the construction industry and its workers (along with farmworkers) face greater exposure to these hazards than most population segments.

The most recent heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest sent the construction industry a shocking wake-up call on the dangers of extreme heat. With temperatures soaring to 130 degrees in Death Valley, it’s undeniable that now more than ever, rising temperatures create workplace safety issues for construction workers. Between 1992 and 2017 alone, more than 70,000 U.S. workers suffered heat stress injuries. At least 815 died. It stands to reason that with temperatures continuing to rise, deaths and heat stress injuries will also increase.

Without adequate hydration and paid, mandatory breaks in cooler areas, workers are at risk for conditions such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and exacerbation of existing chronic diseases. Studies have shown that prolonged dehydration may lead to chronic kidney disease. Furthermore, working in high heat conditions reduces cognitive function, which increases the risk of injury.

Fortunately, California is a national leader in protecting workers from occupational heat illness and injury. State regulations include training and planning and require water, shade, and cool-off breaks for outdoor workers.

At this time, OSHA has established no clear national standards concerning working conditions in extreme heat environments. However, Democrats in the house and senate have introduced a bill requiring OSHA to create and enforce heat safety standards, including access to water, limitations on time working in the heat, paid breaks in cool areas, and emergency response for heat-related illness.

Climate change continues to present challenges that are redefining the entire construction industry. While the primary consideration must be protecting workers from extreme temperatures, contractors and developers must also contend with wildfires, floods, droughts, and sudden violent storms that negatively affect project costs and timelines. Damage and delay due to extreme weather cost the construction industry over a billion dollars annually.

A greater understanding of the risks posed by climate change, as well as thoughtfully constructed contingency plans, will help mitigate the impact of extreme weather on construction projects. For instance, contractors may need to hone their management skills by compressing or expanding work schedules to keep projects safely on track. Managers will need to closely assess their exposure to equipment damage from strong winds or floods and plan to ensure all equipment is secured both on and off-site.

California Construction Suffers Widespread Labor Shortage

July 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

California’s economy is on track for soaring growth post-Covid-19. The construction industry alone is looking at the need for tens of thousands of new homes to satisfy the current demand. Due to this backlog of projects, construction companies are facing an unprecedented shortage of qualified workers.

According to a recent study for Smart Cities Prevail (a pro-union nonprofit), California needs 200,000 more construction workers to meet the housing goals set by Governor Newsom. It’s important to note that the shortage reported in this study refers to professional union labor that offers good benefits and pays a good wage.

Why is there a shortage?

A huge number of construction workers lost their jobs during the recession and the pandemic. Many found employment in other industries, which has contributed to the 200,000 worker loss that the California construction industry has suffered since 2006.

Reportedly, the prevailing union wage can account for 15 to 30 percent of a project’s cost. In order to keep costs low and meet projected budgets, a number of contractors and developers have turned to cheaper, non-union labor. The result is that many building industry professionals are leaving construction for better paying careers in other industries.

Another factor contributing to the labor shortage is, ironically enough, the high cost of housing in California. Construction companies have found it cheaper to bring contractors in from out of state and pay for their short-term housing than to use local contractors who by necessity charge more due to the cost of California housing.

However, some factors leading to the dearth of professional construction workers were in play well before the recent issues of Covid-19, the recession, and the high cost of housing. For many years, the trades were a family tradition. Skills and professional pride were handed down from one generation to the next.

Today, many young people are encouraged by both family and high school guidance counselors to pursue a college track of studies rather than pursue a career in the trades.

Where are we now?

At this point, employers are beginning to recognize that one way to solve the labor shortage is to be willing to pay workers higher wages. Some have been quoted as saying they will pay “whatever it takes” for qualified professionals. This is the best of news for California’s union construction workers, and ultimately for the industry as a whole.

Mental Health in Construction

June 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Increasingly, the construction industry is recognizing mental health issues that have led to alarming rates of suicide and substance abuse among their workers. According to the CDC, construction is one of the top five industries with the highest suicide rates. While many jobs cause stress, both mental and physical, construction presents a unique set of high impact stressors.

MachoCulture

Construction is a male dominated industry with a history of macho culture. Workers routinely ‘suck it up’ ‘shake it off’ and seldom feel they can ask for help, particularly in regard to feelings of mental stress or depression. This makes workers particularly vulnerable to self-medicating and/or suicide.

LongHoursandPhysicalExhaustion

Often employees are expected to work long hours–past physical exhaustion–to complete a job on time and stay on budget. The combination of physical and mental exhaustion sets the stage for work-related injuries. Pain medications are a ‘quick fix’ that can easily lead to abuse as injured workers struggle to stay on the job.

EconomicUncertainty

Seasonal layoffs, the ‘hire and fire’ nature of the industry, irregular pay, and the uncertainty of finding the next job can all exacerbate anxiety and depression in workers worried about supporting themselves and their families.

Willingness to address mental health issues in construction is slowly improving. However, starting today, management and workers alike can take the next step in mitigating this problem by being ready and available to communicate openly with fellow workers. It’s important to be aware of alarming changes in co-workers’ behavior, and to react quickly and positively. Here are some of the warning signs to look for.

  • A decrease in self confidence
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Decrease in problem solving ability
  • Self-isolation from co-workers
  • Increased tardiness or absence from work
  • Increased and atypical conflict with co-workers
  • Decreased competence or productivity
  • Sense that worker has ‘checked out’ mentally while on the job
  • Inexplicably giving away tools or other personal items

Support your team. If you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see someone hurting. If possible, make a mental health check part of weekly job site discussion.

Augmented Reality—A Powerful New Tool in Construction

May 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Simply put, augmented reality (AR) combines virtual and physical reality using camera and sensor technology along with computer-generated information to produce a real-time interactive experience. This cutting edge (and very cool) technology is providing innovative and substantial benefits for designers, engineers, architects, and project managers in the construction industry. Melding physical reality with AR on an actual job site reduces errors in managing money, time, and resources resulting in increased efficiency and accuracy.

How It Works

In its construction application, AR uses computer algorithms to combine the real-world view of existing space seen through the camera with BIM (building information model) to produce a 3-D model of a proposed design.

Refining Your Design

Viewing a prospective design in 3-D in an existing space benefits the construction firm and the architect as well as the client. The ability to view the ‘completed building’ in detail enables professionals to better understand the project in depth, including possible unforeseen social and environmental challenges.

Showcasing A Project For the Client

With a realistic 3-D view of the finished build provided by AR, clients not only remain engaged, but have a better opportunity to make meaningful changes before construction begins reducing costly changes. There’s no question that AR can increase a client’s comfort level with their project more than blueprints, sketches, or BIM alone. Note that some AR apps can be downloaded to a tablet or smartphone.

Pre-construction Accuracy and On-Site Revisions

Using AR on-site allows experts to troubleshoot any problems virtually before making changes to the physical structure. Design inconsistencies can be corrected prior to construction, saving time and additional costs. Being able to view a ‘finished project’ on site allows managers to better calculate material requirements and the necessary labor force, again improving workflow and preventing waste.

Teamwork

A successful construction project relies on the collaboration of multiple teams including designers, managers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, and more. The goal is always to complete the job on time and on budget. AR allows teams to share video, view errors remotely, and ask questions of any expert who is off-site. This instantaneous ability to consult and collaborate is invaluable in increasing efficiency and cutting costs.

Safety Training

AR can be utilized with great benefit beyond its design and jobsite applications. Augmented reality can provide workers with virtual drills and safety scenarios to improve their safety awareness. This virtual ‘hands on’ approach to learning enhances intuitive training as well as lowering training costs.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS 2021

April 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

As of January 1, 2021, California has instituted new laws regarding Covid-19, minimum wage, safety, sick leave, and more. Know your rights!

WorkerWageandHourLaw

On January 1, California’s minimum wage (the minimum an employer may pay you) increased to $13 per hour for businesses with 25 or fewer employees and $14 per hour for businesses with 26 or more employees. Be certain you are being paid legal minimum wage. An employer who underpays may be subject to employee lawsuits.

As always, take time to review your employee classification. If you are misclassified as an independent contractor rather than an employee, your employer may be trying to avoid giving you benefits and overtime pay. If this situation cannot be resolved with your employer, you are entitled to recover your lost wages through legal channels.

Regardless of citizenship, construction workers are entitled to certain workplace protections and rights. All workers, including undocumented personnel, are entitled to file legal complaints concerning wage and hour violations as well as workplace safety violations.

Employment,Health,andSafety

As of January 1, employers are legally required to notify employees of possible Covid-19 exposure after someone at the worksite tests positive for the virus.

This law also gives OSHA extensive authority to shut down a worksite it judges to be imminently hazardous.

A new 2021 California law expands your rights to family and medical leave. If the company you work for has five or more employees, you are now entitled to a job-protected 3 months of unpaid leave for major life events such as the birth of a child and major health problems. In order to qualify for these benefits, an employee must have worked for the company for at least 1250 hours over the previous 12 months. Both parents of a newborn who work for the same company qualify for the 12-week leave.

Leave has also been expanded for victims of crime or abuse that has caused mental or physical injury. A company with 25 or more employees must now provide time off work for psychological counseling, medical attention, or participation in safety planning.

In addition, new rules apply to employee use of sick days. As of the first of the year, employees may use their sick days for any reason they deem necessary. Businesses no longer have the power to deny employees use of their sick days on any grounds.

Know your rights!

Air Conditioning Takes Front and Center During Covid-19

March 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilation and indoor air quality have never been more important than they are today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), well ventilated indoor public spaces and buildings help prevent the spread of the COVID virus. Clearly, air conditioning plays a central role in this crucial issue. Here’s what you need to know about air conditioning and COVID-19.

CanAirConditioningSpreadCovid-19?

While there is anecdotal evidence that air conditioning may be a factor in spreading Covid, the research is still unclear. Regardless, the EPA and WHO recommend that public buildings and indoor spaces refrain from recirculating indoor air through their HVAC systems. To the greatest extent possible, these spaces should exchange indoor and outdoor air to remove or dilute contaminants such as the Covid-19 virus.

The greatest risk of Covid-19 spread in indoor spaces still remains overcrowding in an area of reduced airflow while coming into close contact with an infected individual. Unfortunately, HVAC systems are designed to save energy by pulling in less fresh air as outside temperatures climb, thus reducing airflow in the hottest part of the season. In addition, air conditioning removes moisture from the air, creating the drier conditions preferred by the Covid virus. Both these factors have the potential to increase Covid transmission.

MakingIndoorAirSafer

In private homes, increasing indoor air quality can be as simple as opening windows to let the fresh air flow through. Understandably, this is more difficult in commercial buildings. Other mitigation strategies have their uses including special short-range UV units, sometimes referred to as upper-room germicidal systems. When mounted on the wall or ceiling, these units successfully eradicate harmful airborne pathogens including viruses. Another option is large-scale air filters, though these may be difficult to run effectively in large public spaces.
Note that ionizing cleaners do not work against Covid.

HVACSystemOperationandMaintenance

While ancillary mitigation measures are helpful, the main load of safe air quality rests squarely on HVAC systems. Home system filters should be changed regularly, and safety and maintenance checks should be performed at least twice yearly by a professional technician.

Operating and maintaining commercial systems during a pandemic is a more complex process. Professionals must preserve system humidity and temperature set points, and maintain the clean air supply required by the system’s design needs. As it becomes necessary, the system should be flushed with the equivalent of three air or clean air supply changes at a time when the space is unoccupied. Outside air intake must be checked to assure that contaminated air is not reentering the building. In addition, assessing airflow to eliminate strong currents can reduce the possibility of virus transmission.

Using a combination of air cleaners and filters, it’s important to achieve at least MERV 13 performance for recirculated air in the system.

AWordofCaution

HVAC professionals need to be aware of the health risks involved in reopening public buildings that have been closed for long periods of time due to Covid-19. During reopening, all CDC guidelines must be followed to prevent life threatening mold and/or Legionnaires’ disease exposure.

Construction Industry Trends 2021

February 1st, 2021 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Many observers believe that 2021 will be a rebound year for construction, as 2020’s shrinking effect on the industry is expected to begin to reverse itself in the coming months. There are several reasons for optimism, including the development of multiple Covid-19 vaccines to battle the pandemic, and safer job sites created during the past year which now implement new protocols to protect workers from contracting the corona virus.

Another bright spot can be found in a post-election survey done by the consulting firm Deloitte in which 68% of responding engineering and construction executives indicated that the business outlook for the construction industry is ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ positive.

Fewer Subcontractors

One of 2020’s trends that is expected to continue is the decrease in subcontractor employment. Many subcontractors were unable to remain in business due to the pandemic. General contractors adjusted to this alteration in the labor force by retaining workers on their payroll to perform needed tasks, resulting in better control of costs and performance.

Continued Safety Protocols

Safety has always been a major concern in the construction industry, but never more so than now. In addition to standard construction safety, employers will need to continue to guard their workers against the pandemic. As previously mentioned, job sites have now become safety compliant for Covid-19 with the addition of masks, hand sanitizing stations, social distancing, testing, and shift changes where possible.

More Construction Jobs

Another trend in construction will likely be a significant increase in job opportunities. As many as 226,000 construction jobs were lost in 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the industry recovers, many of these jobs will return. It’s projected that the majority of new positions will be offered by general contractors looking for skilled workers they want to keep “in house.” However, as the year progresses and the industry begins to restabilize, subcontractors will begin to make a comeback.

Infrastructure Boom

The new administration in Washington, D.C. intends to implement programs designed to create a robust infrastructure. If this comes to fruition, the industry can look for a boom in public works projects and infrastructure jobs.

New Manufacturing and Distribution Facilities

In the private sector there is renewed interest in b ufacturing and distribution facilities to help ease some of the challenges and shortcomings that have been revealed in the “just in time” inventory system we’ve embraced since the 1980s. In addition, distribution centers and warehouses serve the needs of e-businesses which have grown exponentially during the pandemic. This looks to be a fertile construction job market.

Final Word

Without question, 2020 has been detrimental to the construction industry. However, as we move into 2021 and toward a solution to the pandemic, the industry’s ‘lessons learned’ and ‘adaptations made’ will form the basis for a strong rebound and renewed growth in 2021.

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