As the new year begins, we can thankfully report that the unemployment rate in construction is falling, which means Laborers are getting back to work in greater numbers.

In October 2013, general unemployment in the U.S. dipped to 7.3 percent, down from 10.0 percent in 2009. But the change in construction is far more dramatic. In February 2010, 27.1 percent of construction workers were idle, but by last fall (November 2013), the rate had dropped to 8.6 percent. Canada is also seeing improvements, both generally and in construction. Nothing is more important than steady work for Laborers and all workers.

As good as that news is, however, it also prompts concern about rising workplace safety risks as more workers – and, especially, more new workers – are on the job. In this issue, we examine that risk, and we provide some assistance in addressing it through improved toolbox talks.

Anticipating the needs of increased construction employment – and offering ways to mitigate any risks – is typical of the work performed here at the Fund by our professional staff. Our focus is on the safety and health of Laborers and their families, both at home and on-the-job. And we aim to help union contractors improve their bottom lines. In 2014, we will continue comprehensive efforts to assist LIUNA, our health & welfare funds, our signatory employers and Laborers in these vital endeavors.

To this end, we also re-examine and summarize the dangers of highway work zones in this issue of LIFELINES. And, pleased that OSHA has proposed a new silica standard for construction, we nevertheless offer comment on the shortcomings of its competent person provision.

In matters of personal health, we continue our series calling attention to the hazards of energy drinks that are increasingly common temptations for those who are physically or emotionally tired from stress or overwork. We also look into ADHD, glaucoma, thyroid health and radon and offer help in addressing these concerns.

For many of us, a new year provides a welcome opportunity to re-examine our personal health habits and map plans for adjustment and change. Throughout the coming year, we will share a wide array of wellness information that you can use to improve, strengthen and protect you and your family’s health.

As we always do at this time of year, we look forward to another year of continuing service to Laborers and their employers, and we wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2014!