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Best Practices for Employers in the Construction Industry

Wyomi Emanuel
by Wyomi Emanuel on February 15, 2024

As the oldest and one of the largest industries, construction work includes the building and engineering of new structures such as highways and utility systems, as well as structural alterations, maintenance, and repairs of existing establishments, land, and other project sites. Construction is a major contributor to the U.S. economy, as the more than 750,000 employers in the industry hire more than seven million employees per year.

In this high-hazard industry, construction employers face the challenges of safety compliance, workforce diversity, training and development, expectation of wage increases, pay misclassification, and the retention of skilled labor. It is the responsibility of employers to use best business practices to address these challenges so that they can maintain safe work environments and a collaborative workforce that will deliver projects on time and within budget.

In this article, we will cover some of the best practices, regulations, policies, and procedures to follow that address these issues so you, your business, and your employees can continue to thrive.

What Are The Biggest Issues Facing the Construction Industry?

Safety Compliance

Heat-Related Safety

According to OSHA, heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards. Several states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state have implemented their own heat illness regulations and enforcement for outside workers. Employers in those states should be aware of the requirements necessary for heat illness prevention.

Employers should provide cool water, or other non-caffeinated, electrolyte beverages; implement consistent breaks; and provide cool, shaded rest areas for workers. Employees should also receive training on heat illness prevention and what to do if they see another employee suffering from a heat illness.

Early symptoms of a heat-related illness include:

  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • Stumbling
  • Dropping tools
  • Slurred speech
  • Unresponsiveness

Construction workers should wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from cotton. Safety glasses with UV protection, sunscreen, and brimmed hard hats should also be included as heat-protective gear.

Non-Heat Related Safety

According to the National Safety Council, in 2021 the construction industry had the largest number of preventable fatal injuries. Employees face workplace hazards on a daily basis. To create a culture of safety between construction workers and employers, company leaders need to understand and communicate the specific hazards of their different worksites. No matter the size of the project, it is crucial that comprehensive safety plans be in place. A Safety Plan Template provided by OSHA can be downloaded here.

Construction sites can have sharp objects, heavy machinery, chemicals, and different types of surfaces that pose a serious danger and can cause permanent bodily harm. Fall hazards are the most common cause of construction fatalities according to OSHA. As a result, the personal protective equipment (PPE) that the agency recommends includes harnesses, lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, hard hats, protective gloves, safety eyewear, face shields, earplugs, and protective clothing covering, depending on the job site environment.

Employers need to be aware that if workers don’t feel that their working conditions are safe, they can file a confidential complaint with OSHA online or call OSHA directly. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against workers who exercise their legal rights to file an OSHA complaint.

Cold Weather Safety

Cold weather safety at construction sites is a critical aspect of ensuring the health and well-being of workers, and OSHA's guidelines provide valuable insights into effective preparedness measures. Extreme cold temperatures can lead to various hazards, including frostbite, hypothermia, and increased susceptibility to accidents like slips and falls. It is imperative for construction employers to prioritize cold weather safety by implementing the recommendations outlined on the OSHA website. These guidelines stress the importance of proper training for workers, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge to recognize and address cold-related risks. Adequate protective clothing, such as insulated and waterproof gear, is also emphasized to minimize exposure and prevent health issues caused by prolonged exposure to cold conditions.

To ensure cold weather safety at construction sites, OSHA provides several key tips and recommendations:

  • Training: Ensure workers are adequately trained on recognizing signs of cold-related illnesses and injuries.
  • Protective Clothing: Provide and mandate the use of appropriate insulated clothing, gloves, and headgear to minimize exposure to harsh weather elements.
  • Scheduled Breaks: Implement regular breaks in warm, sheltered areas to allow workers to regulate body temperature and reduce the risk of cold-related health issues.
  • Hydration: Encourage workers to stay hydrated even in cold weather to prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate cold-related health problems.
  • Weather Monitoring: Stay informed about weather forecasts and adjust work schedules accordingly to avoid the coldest times of the day.
  • Emergency Planning: Establish a comprehensive emergency plan that includes communication procedures and protocols for medical assistance in case of cold-related incidents.
  • Equipment Inspection: Regularly inspect and maintain equipment to ensure optimal functionality in cold temperatures.

Gender Diversity

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 14% of the entire U.S. construction workforce (approximately 1 million women) are female. However, despite the increase of women working in construction, the percentage of female employment in this male-dominated field is less than in other industries.

Support from the top can require that a safer workforce is created by implementing consistent training and company policies that focus on the awareness of harmful behaviors and that foster a more inclusive, safe, and supportive construction environment on job sites.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination and harassment on several grounds, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is paying particular attention to what it believes is severe and pervasive discrimination in the construction sector directed toward women and people of color. In the last few years, many states have implemented laws that focus on improving gender equality in the workplace.

Effective training in the construction industry should provide content that focuses on empowering those in leadership roles to take actions that result in better recruiting and hiring, risk assessments, conflict resolution, and creating a positive work environment by putting mechanisms in place that quickly address and correct wrongful behavior.

For employees, training sessions should be designed to help with recognizing and identifying the warning signs of different types of harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace, provide workers with knowledge of the negative effects that abusive conduct has on the workplace, and encourage employees to prevent and respond to incidents of bias.

Wage Increases and Pay Misclassification

Wage Increases

On October 23, 2023 the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new rule to boost pay rates for construction workers took effect. The purpose of this law is to protect local wage standards by preventing contractors from basing their bids on wages lower than those in a particular geographical area for the
same job.

The DOL will adopt prevailing wages that are determined by state and local governments,
issue wage determinations for labor classifications where insufficient data was received through wage surveys and update outdated wage rates.

Pay Misclassification

The DOL has also recently highlighted wage theft in the construction sector. Companies are facing lawsuits and paying significant fines for misclassifying workers. Some workers are getting paid at a piecework rate dependent upon output, rather than being paid an hourly rate. Workers who are paid at a piecework rate are typically independent contractors who help employers’ bottom line by not being eligible for benefits, employment protections, etc.

On January 9, 2024, the DOL announced a final rule revising the Department’s guidance on how to analyze who is an employee or independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which will be effective on March 11, 2024. Click here to view a recent blog on this.

There are different tests for independent contractor status under several other federal statutes, including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Internal Revenue Code. Furthermore, each state has its own set of laws governing independent contractor classification that an employer should be mindful of.

The DOL rule is subject to legal challenges and while it may not take effect employers should consider their obligations and risks related to misclassification.

Attracting and Retaining Skilled Construction Workers

The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) reported that in 2023, more than half a million construction workers were needed to meet labor demands. Although the Infrastructure and Investment Job Act of 2021 has massively increased projects within chip manufacturing plants, clean energy facilities, and numerous other infrastructure developments, few qualified workers are applying for these jobs.

Project growth coupled with an aging workforce and a smaller pool of younger, less skilled workers has presented significant recruiting and hiring challenges. Construction companies are competing for Millennials and Gen Zers who are interested in industries offering remote or hybrid work, higher salaries, and shorter, more flexible work hours.

To change the old perception of hammering nails and hard hats, construction companies can create internship positions and apprenticeships that provide younger workers with the opportunities to learn skills that include project management, equipment use, engineering, carpentry, time management, and teamwork. The construction industry also needs to promote the fact that opportunities for advancement don’t always require a college degree, which could increase interest given the current state of student debt. Other benefits to construction work include earning a livable wage (especially with the new regulation for wage increases), job security, being part of a team, and making a difference in people’s lives through building and infrastructure.

Running a business can be hard. Managing your human resources program shouldn’t be. To learn how FrankCrum can help your business, call 800-277-1620 to schedule a consultation.

Wyomi Emanuel
Wyomi Emanuel

Wyomi Emanuel is an HR Consultant with FrankCrum. She is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree and is a Senior Certified Professional in Human Resources (SHRM-SCP) with more than 25 years of experience. Wyomi has worked within businesses of all sizes and for several industries, including construction, government contracting, and healthcare. She takes pride in helping companies achieve their business goals by empowering leaders with advice and information to remain HR compliant.