Engineering News-Record

Laborers' Higher Mortality

October 31, 1994

In case there is any doubt that construction is a high-risk occupation for craft workers, a recent mortality study of laborers has the hard numbers to prove it.

In the first mortality study to look exclusively at construction laborers, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in cooperation with the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund, compared death rates for laborers' union members to those for the general population from 1985 to 1988.

NIOSH started with laborers because they are engaged in "perhaps the most dangerous jobs," say the authors. More than one-third of laborers are union members.

The typical laborer works about 1,500 hours each year for up to five different employers. With some 286 job classification activities, laborers are exposed to a wide variety of physical and chemical agents, such as asbestos, lead and carbon monoxide.

On the job, the laborers suffered a "significantly increased risk of death" from injuries such as falls or being hit by falling objects or vehicles, states the report. Particularly at risk are younger workers with the least experience.

The study turned up higher rates of cancers of the lung, stomach and thyroid gland. Lung cancer was the most common, accounting for one-third of all cancer deaths, although researchers did not rule out effects from smoking.

Stomach cancer. Laborers also suffered nearly twice the rate of stomach cancers, which have been linked to exposure to asbestos, wood dust, coal tar pitch and cement, as well as diet. And they suffered more than twice the expected risk of thyroid cancer, possibly from radiation exposure during demolition of nuclear facilities.

NIOSH is also looking at mortality rates of other construction crafts, including painters and plumbers. The building trades' Center to Protect Workers' Rights is supplying data for the study and providing other support

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