Haslam Study: Construction Injuries Linked to Inexperience

March 8, 2019

Researchers at the Construction Industry Research & Policy Center (CIRPC) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business are studying the context of injuries in construction in Tennessee in 2014 through 2015. They have examined the nature, cause and affected body part of injuries in addition to the age, gender and tenure of the injured workers.

“Time on the job is often mentioned as an important factor in employee safety,” says Ed Taylor, executive director of the CIRPC. “The workers’ compensation findings provide empirical support to the popular observation that new workers are especially prone to injury.”

The commonly-held belief that new workers are more likely to be injured manifests itself in the numbers that Taylor and the CIRPC team examined. They found additional attention to the onboarding process and subsequent training of new workers would most likely yield important dividends in improving construction industry safety.

“One of the first – and perhaps the most notable – observations is that a remarkable portion of workers’ compensation injuries are experienced by workers early in their employment,” Taylor says. “For the two-year period in Tennessee under study, 44.5 percent of injuries were sustained by those with a year or less of tenure. For those with tenure of six months or less, the percentage is an even more startling 30.1 percent.”

Additional observations from the CIRPC include:

  • When examining the injuries themselves – whether in terms of type, cause or body part involved – there is little difference between the injury to those with limited tenure and the tenured population as a whole. For example, strain is the leading type of injury overall (31.7 percent), and it likewise accounts for a similar portion of injuries experienced with tenure of one year or less (29.3 percent).
  • Linking workers’ compensation data with unemployment data allows consideration of the role played by firm size in the injury picture. The smallest firms (those with 4 or fewer employees) experience the highest frequency of injury. As firms grow larger, the average is reduced.
  • While the CIRPC examined data from Tennessee, several other states report comparable data. For Washington, the zero to six month injury estimate is 31.7 percent and for the zero to 12 month period it is 47.5 percent. For Ohio, the results are: zero to six months – 33.59 percent; zero to 12 months – 45.62 percent. When compared to data from Tennessee, the phenomenon of heavy concentration of injuries among those with limited employment experience seems to be not just a local phenomenon, but is supported by evidence in other jurisdictions.

The CIRPC received a grant to utilize this new data and explore relationships relevant to workplace safety that previously could not have been studied. A grant from the Center for Construction Research and Training enabled the CIRPC to assemble and analyze the new data based on workers’ compensation records.

“Access to workers’ compensation data provides an important supplement to the regularly collected Occupational Health and Safety Administration injury data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” says Taylor.

Data involved in the study of construction workers was a by-product of a more extensive study of Tennessee workers’ compensation records funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).