Construction workers five times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid

Construction workers in Austin, Texas were five times more likely to be hospitalised with the coronavirus than workers in other occupations, a study at the University of Texas has found.

Researchers arrived at the finding by analysing hospital data from mid-March to mid-August in the city.

An earlier study by the CDC reported that the construction sector was ranked number two in frequency of workplace outbreaks in another state, Utah.

These workers face many overlapping risks and are being exposed at a time when less vulnerable populations are able to stay home– Pr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, University of Texas

In Texas, researchers proposed that the higher vulnerability of construction workers stemmed from the continuation of construction work during stay-home orders.

They said the nature of the work exacerbated the risks owing to close contact among workers, employer practices and demographic factors.

"It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to stop construction work," said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the university’s Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.  

"It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work."

Encouraging basic precautions such as mask wearing and physical distancing on the work site would help, researchers note.

So too would offering workers paid sick leave when they have a known exposure or mild symptoms, to help mitigate risk.

Regular site testing with effective tracing and isolation of detected cases can also help prevent spread.

In central Texas, construction workers are disproportionately Hispanic, and many of them are uninsured or in close contact with people who have limited access to health care.

Compared with the general population, they also experience more underlying health conditions linked to severe cases of Covid-19, are more likely to have more people in the home and may feel pressured to work even when they don’t feel well due to socioeconomic pressures.

In Texas, Covid-19 has disproportionately affected Hispanics, who account for about 40% of the state’s population but 56% of its Covid-19 fatalities, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"These workers face many overlapping risks and are being exposed at a time when less vulnerable populations are able to stay home," Meyers said.

Across the US, construction workers are disproportionately Hispanic: 17.6% of all workers are Hispanic or Latino, yet 30% of construction workers are Hispanic or Latino, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The results are published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, a subsidiary of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Image: A construction worker in Atlanta, Georgia (Chandler Denise/Unsplash)

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