The Obesity Epidemic and the Construction Industry

Various organizations, as high-profile as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have stated that America has an obesity epidemic. And this epidemic has affected the construction industry, as 43 percent of workers in construction are overweight, compared to only 35 percent of workers in all other industries. The amount of construction workers suffering fatal injuries on the job has increased. And while some of these deaths are the result of freak accidents, this rise can also be attributed to the increased number of overweight workers in construction.

Obesity itself is associated with sundry health problems—such as stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure. Coupled with the hard work that construction entails, these issues can flair up in tragic ways on the job. While no one is necessarily immune to a freak heart attack or some other problem, the possibility of such a thing happening is higher in obese individuals.

In addition, there are lesser known problems associated with obesity that can prove to be troublesome with construction workers. One of these is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA makes sleeping at night far more difficult, which leads to sleepiness in the day. And in a field where precision matters, such as construction, this can lead to various issues that not only endanger the worker himself, but his colleagues. Some of these include falling asleep on the job altogether, performing poorly during tasks where absolute fastidiousness is required, worsened reaction time, poor judgement and attention to detail and lapses in communication.

Providing the proper equipment for obese individuals is made much more trying. For example, obese individuals have larger fingers, and it may be hard to supply them with gloves that properly fit or fit at all. The same goes for other equipment like helmets and vests.

Generally hazardous conditions are even more lethal for obese workers. For example, overexposure to the sun can kill even the fittest worker, but obese workers are at a greater risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, as their impaired ability to self-cool can hasten the onset of heat-related illness, not to mention that the heat itself can trigger other latent health problems. Other scenarios further demonstrate this: for example, workers who are suspended midair after a fall cannot last nearly as long as coworkers in better physical shape.

The obesity epidemic is a public health crisis, and the negative ramifications can be seen in the construction industry, where workers can be victimized by the harmful effects of obesity in both mundane and extraordinary circumstances.