- In the first year of the pandemic, more construction workers died from COVID-19 than any other industry in Colorado, according to new data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
- According to COVID-19, there were 5,921 deaths in Colorado between March 1, 2020 and February 21, for all industries and all ages CDPHE. There have been 919 deaths from COVID-19 among people of working age between 16 and 64. Of these, 111 were construction workers, or 12% of all deaths, of working age.
- However, the report cautioned that there was no causal link between the numbers and the industry to which they were attributed. For example, construction workers ages 16 to 64 accounted for 14% of all deaths, not just those attributable to COVID-19. That means the rate at which construction workers died from COVID-19 was slightly below their overall death rate.
In comparison, healthcare workers were overrepresented in COVID-19 deaths. This industry accounted for 8.5% of all COVID-19 working-age deaths but only 7.6% of all cause deaths. And as of January, construction jobs accounted for between 8 and 9% of COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado, well below inpatient health care, corrections, and school facilities in the state.
However, the fact that construction workers in Colorado also represented the highest number of all cause deaths underscores both the size of the industry in the state and how dangerous physical construction is.
The news comes as national COVID-19 case numbers spike due to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the US now seeing more than 100,000 new cases per day, a benchmark not seen since February.
The fact that the construction led to the COVID-19 working-age deaths in Colorado in the first year of the pandemic adds another data point to a collection of state and local health metrics suggesting industry workers are more vulnerable to the contagion and the death of the virus are greater than in other areas.
In November 2020, Construction Dive reported that in Washington, Michigan, Utah and Nashville, Tennessee, the construction industry is responsible for the second or third highest rate of COVID-19 outbreaks by industry. At the same time, an academic study found that construction workers in Texas are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than workers in other industries.
With construction deemed necessary in most parts of the country at the start of the pandemic, the fact that there have been some breakouts on construction sites wasn’t surprising, construction advocates said. The physical aspects of building buildings and roads cannot be done behind a computer, and the fact that construction workers reported the job while other industries did not could be due to an over-representation of outbreaks, according to CDPHE.
“Where there are differences between the distribution of industries for COVID deaths and all deaths, they appear to belong to occupations and industries that have been more active during the pandemic and may have involved more close-range or face-to-face interactions,” said Brian Spencer. a CDPHE spokesperson, in an email to Construction Dive.
In addition, construction groups have argued that the industry’s traditional use of personal protective equipment and the early adoption of social distancing and staggered shifts make it a model for a safe return to work, and that workers who become infected with COVID-19 have often done this outside of work.
Whether it is a contract or not, data like the Colorado study points to persistent challenges for those working in the field as the construction industry grapples with another area where its workers are over-represented: those who chose to stay unvaccinated. In response to a survey by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, 46% of construction workers said they would likely or definitely not to get vaccinated if offered a COVID-19 vaccine.
With the federal government, the U.S. military, and companies as diverse as Facebook, United Airlines, Walmart, and Tyson Foods all announced that they need vaccines to allow workers to return to the office, construction faces another dilemma. While many construction companies have previously promoted vaccines but have voluntarily made them for their employees, some project owners require workers on their construction sites to be fully vaccinated.