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U.S. Businesses Start and Stay Smaller

Categories: Manufacturing, Service Sector, Small Business, Wholesale and Retail Trade

U.S. businesses of the new millennium are starting smaller and staying smaller than in decades past. That’s the conclusion of a study reported in the March issue of Monthly Labor Review.

The study found that business size, as measured by number of employees, usually declines during economic recessions and increases during expansion years resulting in an overall upward trend. However, unlike previous decades, that trend did not persist during the 2000s when overall size declined slightly. That shift was mostly explained by a decrease in “birth size” of businesses. For example, between 2000 and 2007, the average size of establishments that were less than one year old declined from 7.3 to 5.3 employees while the size of establishments that were seven or more years old showed a much smaller decline from 22.8 to 22.2.

Safety Pays. Falls Cost

Categories: Construction, Outdoor Work, Personal Protective Equipment

One sunny June morning in 2009, Hector* went to work just as he had every other morning. He climbed to the roof as usual to begin working. But this day was different. In an instant, Hector was hanging over the outside edge of the second story wall of the home the residential construction company he worked for was building.

While working on the top plate of the two-story home, Hector had lost his balance. As he stumbled, he had tried to regain his footing by stepping on a pressure block, but the block blew out and he had fallen.

Fortunately, because Hector was using fall protection he is not among the thousands of workers we remember this year on Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28, 2012.  He fell only inches, not two stories. He was pulled back up onto the roof by a coworker, treated with first aid for a minor cut on his leg, and returned to work.

In an effort to create more successful outcomes like Hector’s, this Workers’ Memorial Day NIOSH and its partners are announcing a new campaign to prevent falls in the construction industry.  Falls are the top cause of death in construction and account for one-third of all on-the-job deaths in the industry. Each year in the U.S. over 200 construction workers are killed and over 10,000 are seriously injured by falls.

Getting Closer to Understanding the Economic Burden of Occupational Injury and Illness

Categories: Economics

A recently published landmark paper by J. Paul Leigh (Milbank Quarterly 2011 89 (6):728-772 ) makes a significant contribution to understanding the economic burden of occupational illness and injury.  The paper entitled “Economic Burden of Occupational Injury and Illness in the United States” shows that the annual direct and indirect costs are at least $250 billion. This amount exceeds the individual cost of cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

As Leigh notes, the cost of injury, illness, and death from these other diseases are generally easier to assess because they require a small number of primary data sources, typically 1 to 4.  In contrast, estimates of the burden of occupational injury and illness are more difficult to accomplish because they rely on far more primary and secondary sources of data on more than 18 diseases and a substantial number of injury types.  In fact, Leigh used more than 40 data sets in conducting this rigorous analysis.

Help Wanted: Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation Research

Categories: Chemicals, Construction, Engineering Control, Exposure, Green, Personal Protective Equipment

walls insulated with spray polyurethane foamEnvironmentally friendly doesn’t necessarily mean worker friendly. In many cases, new “green” technologies and products have reached the market without being adequately evaluated to determine whether they pose health or safety risks to workers in manufacture, deployment, or use. Spray polyurethane foam—commonly referred to as SPF—is a case in point. Its use as insulation has been on the upswing because of the laudable aim of builders and property owners to improve energy efficiency. As popular as it has become, however, much remains unknown about spray polyurethane foam—specifically the health implications of its amines, glycols, and phosphate upon workers.

Polyurethane foam has a high R-factor (or R-value), so it resists the flow of heat and, when used as insulation, increases a building’s energy efficiency. Because of this, it has become a favorite in the world of energy-conscious construction and renovation. While better insulation clearly means less energy consumption, what’s not clear is the level of protection and ventilation workers need so that they remain safe during the installation process.

 
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