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Increase in heat-related construction worker deaths may be tied to global warming: CPWR

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Silver Spring, MD — Construction workers comprised 36% of all heat-related deaths on the job over a recent 25-year period – and climate change may be a contributing factor, according to a recent study from the Center for Construction Research and Training (also known as CPWR).

Researchers used data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries to identify heat-related worker deaths from 1992 to 2016. They found that 285 occurred among construction workers, who make up only 6% of the U.S. workforce. For each case, the research team looked at time, region and temperature – gathered from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

Of the deaths, 78% occurred during the summer months: 32.9% in July, 25.6% in June and 19.5% in August. Over the course of the study period, increasing summer temperatures in the contiguous United States correlated positively with the annual number of heat‐related deaths – to 13.7 deaths per year between 2011 and 2016 from 9.5 per year between 1992 and 2002. Additionally, increasing temps from 1997 to 2016 – a period that includes many of the warmest years on record – were associated with greater heat‐related death rates.

Construction workers born in Mexico had a 91% higher risk than the average for all construction workers, the researchers said. Among professions, cement masons were 10 times more likely to die from heat-related causes than the average construction worker, while roofers and helpers were seven times more likely.

The researchers cite the urgent need for regulatory intervention, specifically a heat-related illness standard from OSHA. Meanwhile, they say workplace interventions (e.g., acclimatization, ready access to water and rest breaks), enhanced surveillance, and improved regulation and enforcement “should accompany broader efforts to combat global warming.”

The study was published online July 22 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

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