In Brief

  • This review study addresses work-related musculoskeletal injuries and disorders and practical solutions in seven construction trades/occupations (carpenters, masons, electricians, sheet metal workers, roofers, ironworkers, plumbers).

  • By identifying risk factors for these injuries and disorders, OSH professionals can offer effective interventions to meet the challenges that contractors face in the field.

  • The simple good practices solutions summarized can help mitigate potential ergonomic hazards and increase productivity at construction job sites.

Construction is one of the largest industries in the U.S. and it is a vital part of the nation's economy. Construction employment is expected to grow by approximately 2 million wage-and-salary jobs between 2010 and 2020, more than double the growth rate projected for the overall U.S. economy (CPWR, 2013). The industry consistently ranks among the most hazardous occupations and it accounts for a disproportionately large percentage of all work-related injuries and illnesses.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) and injuries are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, accounting for 33% of all injury and illness cases (OSHA, 2015). MSDs involve the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and supporting structures of the upper and lower limbs, neck and lower back; they are caused, precipitated or exacerbated by sudden exertion or prolonged exposure to physical factors such as high force, repetition, awkward body posture or vibration (NIOSH, 2015).

Construction work often involves forceful exertions that are excessive or prolonged, such as heavy manual lifting or prolonged grasping; awkward body postures maintained for extended periods; pressure from hard surfaces or sharp edges on body tissues; vibration from tools and machinery; and environmental factors such as extreme temperatures and humidity. Laborers' Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA, 2006) reports that 40% of construction workers surveyed said working while hurt reduces productivity and results in disabling injuries. Sprains/strains, low back pain, and neck/shoulder and knee injuries are common MSDs in the construction industry.

Contractors and workers are searching for evidence of potential, cost-effective solutions that do not slow the job or reduce productivity (Schneider, 2012). Protecting construction workers from ergonomic hazards that contribute to WMSDs is a growing concern. In 2007, ANSI/ASSE A10.40, Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction, was adopted; it was reaffirmed in 2013. NIOSH's National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) began in 1996 and the Construction Agenda was established in 2008. Its Strategic Goal 7.0 is to "reduce the incidence and severity of work-related MSDs among construction workers in the U.S." (NORA, 2014).

Each construction trade utilizes different skills and completes different tasks. Some jobs/tasks require employees to work close to the ground or floor, while others require performing overhead tasks. The nature of physical work and characteristics of the specific job sites or trades can expose employees to various ergonomic risks and hazards that could result in different WMSDs and injuries. This article reviews and synthesizes the findings of recent literature addressing WMSDs and practical solutions in the construction industry.

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