Overtime is a fact of life in construction. Laborers welcome it to make up for slack winter wages, and contractors rely on it to accelerate lagging production schedules.

“Overtime is a big part of summer construction,” says LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, “and everyone should be aware that it carries additional risk.

“Employers, supervisors and safety officers should take this into account as they assess workforce requirements for summer projects,” Schneider adds. “Employers should schedule more rest breaks during ten-hour days and highlight the risk in summer toolbox talks.”

In a 16-year longitudinal study released last November, the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR) found that construction laborers tend to work more overtime than other blue-collar workers and that the rate of injury is significantly higher for those who usually work overtime than for those who do not.

“To control the risks associated with overtime,” says Schneider, “Laborers should space out voluntary overtime as much as possible. When they do work overtime, they should rest before starting. Also, they should make sure they get adequate sleep each night and maintain a healthy diet with plenty of water on the job to ensure stamina.”

The data show that construction workers, on an annual basis, average 30 to 45 minutes longer each day than other blue-collar employees. Presumably, this is much longer during the summer overtime season. Construction workers also more commonly work overtime (34 percent versus 25 percent for other industries).

Almost 13,000 working men and women were interviewed each year between 1979 and 1994 and again in 1996. Between 550 and 700 each year were construction workers. Overtime was defined as over eight hours per day and more than 40 hours per week. More information on the study is available from Sue Dong at CPWR (301-578-8500).

[Steve Clark]