Study: Construction Workers 5 Times More Likely to Be Hospitalized With COVID-19

The study highlights how the unique nature of the construction industry makes it susceptible to COVID-19 and outlines a few key methods of prevention.

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According to a new study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, construction workers were five times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than workers in other occupations.

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The study, which the researchers believe to be the first of its kind, analyzed hospitalization data in Austin, Tex., from mid-March to mid-August. The main explanation for the high level of vulnerability? Construction work continued throughout the pandemic, with workers unable to simply “work from home.”

“These workers face many overlapping risks and are being exposed at a time when less vulnerable populations are able to stay home,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and the author of the study.

The study also notes that the nature of construction work, which typically requires close contact with other workers, likely contributed to the increased COVID-19 exposure risk. Another cited reason is the disproportionally high Hispanic population among construction workers in Texas, who make up 66 percent of construction workers in Austin compared to 30 percent nationwide.

According to the study: “Approximately 24 percent of all construction workers and nearly 48 percent of Latinx construction workers do not have health insurance and thus lack access to preventative care, have disproportionate comorbidities, and are less likely to seek timely and safe treatment for COVID-19 infections. Hospitalization risk may also be elevated by high rates of smoking and exposure to hazardous materials at worksites.”

The authors of the study seek to raise awareness and perhaps jumpstart more widespread and stringent adoption of safety measures in the construction industry.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to stop construction work,” said Meyers. “It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work.”

The study listed several prevention methods that could help lower construction workers’ risk of COVID-19, including:

  • Encouraging basic precautions such as mask wearing and physical distancing on the work site;
  • Having governments or employers offer workers paid sick leave and other incentives to stay home when they have a known exposure or mild symptoms;
  • Regular work site-based surveillance COVID-19 testing.