Construction workers are almost five times more likely to be hospitalized for the coronavirus compared to non-construction workers, according to a study from researchers with The University of Texas at Austin.
Researchers at the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at UT made the discovery from hospitalization data in Austin from March to August.
The findings mirror an earlier report from the CDC that the construction sector was ranked No. 2 in frequency of workplace outbreaks in Utah.
The researchers say the higher vulnerability among construction workers is due to:
- continuation of construction work throughout the pandemic, even during stay-home orders – on March 31, Texas declared construction work to be “essential”
- the nature of the work which includes close contact with others, and
- the demographics of construction workers (more likely to be Hispanic).
Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor with the consortium, says Hispanic workers are more likely to face more overlapping risks.
In the Austin area, construction workers are:
- disproportionately Hispanic
- more likely to be underinsured
- have more underlying health conditions linked to severe COVID-19 cases
- more likely to live with more people (increasing the chance of virus spread), and
- are more likely to feel pressured to work due to factors such as lack of paid sick days.
Meyers says the study’s results don’t mean we need to stop construction work. “It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work,” she said.
Those protective steps include:
- mask wearing
- physical distancing on the work site
- providing paid sick leave
- regular worksite-based surveillance COVID-19 testing, and
- effective contact tracing and isolation when coronavirus cases are detected.
The study’s results are published in the JAMA Network Open, a subsidiary of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Earlier this year, the research team produced a model that predicted rates of coronavirus hospitalizations among construction workers would be four to five times that of other workers. The new study matched the prediction.
The earlier model also predicted that continued construction work would increase the rates of hospitalizations among the general public. Due to the current levels of contact tracing, that prediction has been more difficult to measure and validate.