Construction Workers and Dangerous Work SitesSince 2007, there has been a substantial shortage of skilled construction workers to fulfill available jobs.

A vast segment of the construction worker industry lost their jobs between 2006 and 2009 during the decline of the US economy when the residential housing industry collapsed.

Since then, millions have lost their homes because they could no longer pay the mortgage attached to rising interest rates.

Why Is There a Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers?

In the last few years, the need for new houses, remodeled homes, and commercial properties has increased dramatically, causing an increasing need to fill an average of 225,000 construction jobs monthly.

Because there is a significant decrease in available skilled laborers, many contractors hire inexperienced workers to ensure their jobs are completed on time.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in significant safety concerns about dangerous job sites.

Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers Statistics

Statistics maintained by the US Bureau of Labor and the National Association of Homebuilders show that more than 2.3 million jobs were lost in the construction industry in the five years between 2006 and 2011.

Many of these workers had to permanently move away from their construction job and seek employment in other industries, significantly decreasing the number of skilled contractors and laborers trained:

  • Framing
  • Bricklaying
  • Concrete work
  • Plumbing
  • Electricity
  • Drywall
  • Roofing
  • Other construction occupations

Many of these valued trade workers were close to retiring or believed they were too old to re-enter the construction industry.

The shortage of skilled construction workers has caused significant delays in completing construction projects.

It has increased the demand for current workers to complete the job quickly to meet scheduled deadlines.

Changes in population and society have also likely contributed to the decline in available skilled construction laborers, as many millennials do not believe that working in a construction industry job is worthwhile.

Training and Vocational Schools

The prevalence of training and vocational schools has nearly vanished as many parents now steer their teenage children into white-collar careers after attending a four-year college program.

Worker migration is another problem where workers have moved to other areas after experiencing or avoiding a natural disaster, like areas of the country that were hit by hurricanes in recent years.

The Bureau of Labor claims that the shortage of skilled construction workers will likely not end anytime soon.

Making Safety of Priority on Job Sites

Hiring the best people is only part of the solution. Contractors must maintain an effective risk management program by building a strong safety culture that manages the potential risks of a shortage of skilled construction workers.

The contractor should create and enforce safety rules, develop the best practices, ensure their employees are trained, and follow safety regulations mandated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

The contractor’s job is to provide expertise and guidance to their workforce.

Many worksites are filled with construction veterans with decades of experience working alongside new employees who have only worked in the industry for a few weeks.

Some of these contractors know that hiring a less skilled workforce causes significant delays in completing the project with an increased cost that can potentially cause more workplace injuries.

These builders are already at their capacity to complete existing projects, especially in areas of the country that were hard-hit by natural disasters, like the forest fires in California and Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Florence.

A Growing Residential Home Market and Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers

The significant uptake in the need for building residential homes has exploded in recent years, although it is likely not to surpass the growth rates before the recession.

This could be unwelcome news for the construction industry that does not have an existing, skilled construction labor pool to tackle any more projects.

Additionally, residential home-building companies are competing against commercial contractors, vying to hire anyone from the limited number of working construction job employees.

Many contractors believe it will take years to return to a skilled workforce undergoing apprenticeship and certification programs.

After surviving the major real estate market slump over the last ten years, other residential and commercial contractors have remained cautious. However, time is of the essence.

Statistics show that building permit applications for new residential houses and apartment complexes have risen 31% since 2011, when the industry was at its lowest point.

Using the Visa Program to Fulfill Jobs

Recently, roofers and other specialty contractors relying on foreign workers to fulfill seasonal occupational jobs have become confused. Initial reports revealed a severe shortage of H-2B visas based on high demand.

Last year, only 66,000 H-2B visa allotments covered 82,000 applications.

Fortunately, Congress acted by raising the cap to approximately 130,000 visas.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to issue the extra visas Congress allowed, which has caused uncertainty about how well the program works, especially now that it has been decades since the shortage of skilled construction workers has been as dire as they are now.

The drop in unemployment to below 4% caused significant problems in the construction industry. Many specialty contractors face significant difficulties in hiring enough skilled workers to meet the demands of renovation and remodeling jobs.

While some contractors are fluent in how H-2B visas work, others are confused about how the program works and whether it could solve their problem of a lack of qualified workers.

The government has placed severe restrictions on allowing an out-of-country workforce to enter the United States to work in the construction industry.

The contractor should consider certain factors, including:

  • Timing – If the contractor is just now considering hiring workers through the H-2B visa program, they are likely already too late to get the application through the lengthy and complicated process. The Department of Labor requires the contractor to receive certification when applying for visas to hire out-of-country workers. The contractor must prove that there is currently no US employee to fill the open position. All other options must be exhausted before the contractor can advertise the job to others outside the United States.
  • The Cost – Besides the typical government red tape, the contract must pay the $460 filing fee, a legal requirement to hire seasonal workers.
  • Uncertainty – Even if the contractor completes the process, they cannot guarantee that the federal government will grant the H-2B visas. There is so much competition to hire outside help that it does not provide an easy solution for building a strong, skilled workforce.

A Long-Term Solution to the Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers

There once was a time in America when nearly every school offered vocational education to show young students how to find a successful career path away from two and four-year colleges.

Many of these educational programs have disappeared in high schools across the United States. Currently, educators and parents have redirected many students to make academic-only decisions to find a career path that will ultimately leave many heavily in debt.

Members of the business trade are encouraging schools to reinforce their vocational education training by showing today’s students that there is a potential to earn higher wages, be self-employed, and increase their demand in the construction industry.

Today, many high school students can gain valuable training in metal and wood shops to prepare them for residential and commercial building jobs.

The Associated General Contractors of America are building a Workforce Development Plan to tackle the shortage of skilled construction workers they believe “are the consequence of a series of policy, education, demographic, and economic factors that have decimated the once robust education pipeline for training new construction workers.”

They believe it will likely require more than just paying higher wages to fill construction jobs if the current shortage of skilled construction workers is eliminated.

The Home Builders Institute and other organizations have focused on trade schools and educational programs to provide much-needed training to at-risk teens and other groups, including veterans and ex-offenders.

Avoiding the traditional four-year college degree and learning skills in trade school can be a proactive step to ending the skills gap in today’s construction industry.

Employers’ Role In Minimizing Risks To Workers

Eliminating the ongoing demand for more workers in the construction industry will take time, effort, and an effective strategy.

Until then, all contractors risk having employees injured on the job because of unrealistic schedules to complete the project and the lack of skills every worker has.

In the meantime, the industry will need to focus on training, education, and altering the perception of high school teachers, parents, students, veterans, and others in how they view making a good living in the construction industry.

Contractors and employees will likely need to pay the skilled laborer more and reduce their weekly workload to ensure that the US economy, especially the construction industry, moves forward.

There is currently no simple solution to get back on track after the devastating blow the construction industry took in 2008. Only time will tell how things work out.

Legal Options for Workers Injured Due to an Insufficient Workforce to Do the Job

In some unfortunate situations, workers may be injured due to an insufficient workforce to perform the job adequately.

When an employer fails to provide an adequate number of workers or staffing levels that meet the demands of a particular job, it can lead to increased risks and hazards, potentially resulting in accidents and injuries.

In such cases, workers can seek compensation for their injuries and hold their employers accountable.

Workers’ Compensation

In many jurisdictions, workers’ compensation laws provide a system for injured workers to receive benefits regardless of fault.

If an employee sustains an injury due to understaffing or inadequate workforce, they can typically file a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ compensation benefits may cover medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, and disability compensation.

It is crucial for injured workers to promptly report their injuries to their employer and follow the necessary procedures to initiate a workers’ compensation claim.

Third-Party Liability

While workers’ compensation generally limits an employee’s ability to sue their employer, there may be situations where a third party’s negligence contributes to the understaffing or inadequate workforce.

For example, suppose a subcontractor or another entity involved in the project failed to provide sufficient workers, and their negligence directly led to the worker’s injury.

In that case, the injured worker may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against that third party.

Consulting with a Chicago construction site injury lawyer experienced in workplace accidents can help determine if there is a viable third-party liability claim.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Complaints

If understaffing or insufficient workforce conditions violate workplace safety regulations, workers can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is responsible for enforcing safety standards and regulations in the workplace.

Filing a complaint can trigger an investigation into the employer’s practices, potentially resulting in penalties or corrective actions to address unsafe conditions.

Employment Lawsuits

In some cases, workers may have legal grounds to pursue employment-related lawsuits against their employers. This could include claims of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or other applicable legal theories.

If an employer knowingly and recklessly maintains an insufficient workforce that creates a hazardous work environment, workers may be able to seek damages beyond what workers’ compensation provides.

Consulting an employment attorney is crucial to understand your jurisdiction’s specific laws and legal options.

Injured workers need to gather evidence to support their claims when pursuing legal options. This may include documenting unsafe conditions, collecting medical records, gathering witness statements, and preserving relevant information.

Consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can guide the best action and increase the chances of a successful outcome.

For additional material on workers’ compensation, look here.


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