Construction Safety Trends From the 2022 National Safety Council Congress and Expo

Three top safety trends that can help construction leaders refine their always-ready safety programs.
By Dale Golgart
December 13, 2022

In September, thousands of safety professionals met in San Diego, California, for the 2022 NSC Safety Congress & Expo. The packed, six-day agenda included keynotes, seminars and technical sessions on everything from cutting-edge safety technology to legalized marijuana.

Here are three top safety trends that can help construction leaders refine their always-ready safety programs.

Trend #1: A Concerted Focus on Mental Health

Construction often places workers in high-stress environments. Combined with pandemic-related financial strain and industry turbulence, many construction workers are struggling with mental health issues.

Over the last few years, these concerns have snowballed. Male construction workers have a suicide rate 65% higher than men in other industries. Talking about mental health is heavily stigmatized among crews—and many workers don’t look for help until it’s too late.

Apart from the devastating human cost, festering mental health issues can lower crew morale and tank worker productivity. For industry leaders, there’s both a moral and business imperative to take preventive action.

As part of a concerted response, this year’s congress featured several technical sessions focused on addressing mental health stigma and fostering a healthy work environment.

One set of guiding principles to note is the Total Worker Health program, developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This program teaches leaders about the direct impact that work has on health. With this understanding, leaders can reorient their workplaces around wellness and minimize mental health risks.

Trend #2: A Major Safety Headache around Legal Marijuana

Over the last few years, the construction industry has largely experienced a drop in drug positivity rates; with marijuana, however, positivity rates have jumped 45% since 2017.

That’s no doubt because a growing number of states have legalized marijuana. Thirty-eight states now allow medical or recreational marijuana use, and five states have ballot referenda around legalization this year. In each state where it’s legal, construction companies have seen a clear uptick in marijuana positivity rates.

While marijuana use may be legal outside of the workplace, it creates serious safety risks on construction sites. THC, a psychoactive chemical in marijuana, can impair judgment, coordination, depth perception and reaction time. Marijuana-impaired workers can hurt themselves or others when doing common construction tasks, such as using power tools, operating a forklift or handling toxic chemicals.

To account for the growing trend of marijuana impairment, sessions emphasized:

  • Using safety training software to educate crews about the dangers of marijuana-impaired construction work.
  • Showing supervisors and forepersons how to spot and respond to marijuana intoxication.
  • Educating leaders about the legal and compliance concerns around marijuana intoxication in the workplace.
  • Using impairment detection tech to supplement standard drug testing and other safety protocols.

It’s important to note that a positive marijuana test doesn’t necessarily indicate impairment—the drug is detectable in urine for up to 30 days after use. But given the dangers of potential impairment on site, proactive education and training can help set expectations and keep workers safe.

Trend #3: An All-Hands, Tech-Powered Safety Culture

One of the standout moments from this year’s congress and expo was during the opening keynote.

Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino told a story about a training flight gone wrong. His pilot nearly crashed into another plane after missing a critical flight change right before takeoff. Massimino had heard the control tower’s instructions and knew they were going in the wrong direction—but he didn’t say anything. That decision nearly cost him and the pilot their lives.

Massimino’s experience taught him two lessons. First, always speak up. Second, make sure you have a safety culture that empowers folks to speak up.

For construction workers, the concept of a “see something, say something” culture isn’t new. But this year’s congress emphasized a few ways to encourage an all-hands approach to safety. The highlights:

  • Tailor your safety communication to your audience in order to drive positive, safety-minded change.
  • Ground your safety culture in a shared understanding of risk.
  • Push for grassroots safety leadership to decentralize your safety culture.

Behind the scenes, technology is making it easier to drive this culture shift. The strongest safety-driven companies are using technology to train crews, assess risk, preventing injuries and fatalities. The result: a safety culture that everyone’s invested in.

Keep an Eye on Safety Trends to Leap Ahead of the Pack

In construction, change happens slowly, but staying on top of safety trends can make your organization more resilient in the long run. Ahead of next year’s congress and expo, watch these trends so you can proactively shape your organization’s safety culture.

by Dale Golgart

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