EDITORIAL

New survey uncovers emerging construction risks and trends for business owners

Nationwide Agent Authority study sheds light on COVID-19 pandemic, mental health, drug use, digital technologies and workplace diversity

April 2021 | Construction

BY LINDA STUEBER

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

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46% of respondents indicated they had to contend with COVID-19-related illnesses

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31% of respondents indicated they had to contend with mental health-related issues at their workplace

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26% of respondents indicated their business had to navigate opioid addiction concerns among employees

emerging

Changes shaping trends in the construction industry


Even in just the past year, the construction industry has experienced considerable changes. While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted the day-to-day operations of many businesses, other emerging trends are primed to alter the way firms manage their workforce and streamline their operations. During these times of change, it’s critical for organizations not only to reflect on how their business may have been affected by disruption and innovation, but also to look forward and determine what the future holds.


That’s where Nationwide’s latest Agent Authority research comes in. This survey of 200 middle market construction business owners — who reported being a sole or part owner of a construction company that has 25 to 500 employees, $10 million to $500 million in revenue, or 20 or more fleet vehicles — was designed to:


  • Explore concerns that most impact construction businesses
  • Identify what technologies construction companies are adopting
  • Assess the state of workplace diversity in the construction industry

This article will examine some of the key findings from the survey highlighting key trends in the construction industry surrounding diversity, workplace safety and more.


Adverse events impacting trends in construction risk and safety


In 2020, construction firms had innumerable threats to navigate. While COVID-19 stole the majority of the headlines, businesses still had to contend with other common threats to their operations, including risks related to managing the mental health of workers, extreme weather and work-related falls, among others.


When responding to the survey, business owners were asked to identify the adverse events they experienced in the past year. Not surprisingly, 46% of respondents indicated they had to contend with COVID-19-related illnesses. From there, mental health-related issues (31%), weather-related damage (31%), falls from ladders (29%) and caught-in/caught-between injuries (29%) rounded out the top five.


These findings speak to a wide range of exposures and concerns that construction businesses must contend with each day. Not only do these business owners have to deal with long-standing workplace safety issues (e.g., fall protection, caught-in or -between hazards, and trenching safety), but they are also facing the pressure of contending with items related to staffing, cybersecurity, damaging weather events and the ongoing pandemic. This range of issues illustrates the need for construction business owners to adopt strong risk management principles that can address an ever-changing landscape.


Spotlight on mental health and drug use concerns


Both mental health and drug use continue to be concerns for construction businesses, particularly amid the ongoing opioid epidemic. As noted, 31% of respondents indicated they had to contend with mental health-related issues at their workplace, and approximately 1 in 4 owners agreed that mental health issues increased among workers in the past year.


In terms of drug use, 26% of respondents indicated their business had to navigate opioid addiction concerns among employees. Another 26% of respondents noted that non-opioid drug usage (e.g., medical marijuana use) occurred in their workplace in 2020.


It’s worth noting that business owners differed on whether mental health and drug-related issues were increasing in their workplace. While 23% of respondents felt the presence of employee mental health issues was increasing, 41% felt these issues stayed the same. Regarding use of specific substances, business owners responded as follows:


  • Usage of opioids among employees:
    • Increased (17%)
    • Stayed the same (42%)
    • Decreased (31%)

  • Usage of medical marijuana among employees:
    • Increased (12%)
    • Stayed the same (40%)
    • Decreased (34%)

Most owners (90%) trust their employees to seek help if they’re dealing with opioid addiction. While 84% of respondents actively encourage employees to seek alternative medicine practices following an injury to avoid opioid addiction, 1 in 5 businesses don’t offer addiction help.


Top construction trends in the industry


Given the complexity of the construction industry, it’s not surprising that there are considerable top-of-mind concerns for business owners. According to Nationwide’s Agent Authority research, COVID-19 was the biggest concern for business owners, followed by weather-related damage to property and accidents involving fleet vehicles.


When it comes to issues involving their employees, 79% of respondents were concerned that one or more would file a workers' compensation claim in the next six months. Other top employee concerns were related to the overall safety of employees while driving company vehicles, compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines, opioid addiction and employee burnout.


Technology trends


Emerging technologies are impacting the construction industry more than ever before. In fact, in the past year, many construction owners have invested in technology to strengthen their business. According to the survey, these investments were driven by the need to:


  • Meet client needs
  • Increase efficiencies
  • Keep the business going
  • Keep pace with the labor demand

Much of the interest in technology centers around what’s being referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).” Put simply, 4IR technologies are characterized by the fusion of digital, biological and physical worlds. In general, the 4IR refers to the growing utilization of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT), among others.


Many business owners indicated that 4IR technologies play a critical role in their operations. Respondents cited cloud computing, IoT, building information management (BIM) systems, telematics and wearables as their most commonly used technologies.


While respondents noted that 4IR technologies are highly useful in improving employee safety and lowering insurance liabilities, they also raise concerns regarding job security.


Workplace diversity


Per the survey, construction business owners have increased their efforts to support workplace diversity among their employees. In fact, 88% of owners agreed that, over the past year, they’ve become more active in their efforts to support hiring diverse groups of people, both in race and sex. This sentiment is reflected in demographics data gathered in the survey, which indicates that 56% of the respondents’ workforce is made of employees who are nonwhite. Furthermore, half of owners said that 21% or more of their workforce is female.


Expect this push for more diverse workforces to continue, as 87% of respondents indicated that creating a diverse workforce is a top-of-mind priority in their hiring process.


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KEY TAKEAWAYS

Nationwide’s latest Agent Authority study surveyed 200 middle market construction business owners who reported being a sole or part owner of a construction company that has 25 to 500 employees, $10 million to $500 million in revenue, or 20 or more fleet vehicles

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted the day-to-day operations of many businesses, other emerging construction trends are primed to alter the way firms manage their workforce and streamline their operations

During these times of change, it’s critical for organizations not only to reflect on how their business may have been affected by disruption and innovation, but also to look forward and determine what the future holds

about the expert

Linda Stueber, Vice President of Property & Casualty Middle Market

Linda Stueber

Linda leads the General Industry, Construction and Specialty Care Service practice teams from an underwriting and business development standpoint. She joined Nationwide in April 2017 as the Vice President of Construction Underwriting, having over ...30 years of experience in the commercial property and casualty industry, the last 20 years as a construction industry specialist.

A founding member of Travelers' Construction division, she most recently served as Regional Vice President for Travelers' Southern Construction region prior to joining Nationwide.

Linda graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and holds Associate in Risk Management (ARM) and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designations.
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Survey methodology


Nationwide commissioned Edelman Intelligence to conduct a 20-minute quantitative online survey among a sample of 200 U.S. middle market construction business owners between January 5 and January 14 to explore the actions business owners have taken as a result of COVID-19, understand their outlook on the 2021 peak season and the challenges they’re facing, and gauge their experience working with insurance agents and buying or renewing insurance policies. For the purposes of this survey, middle market construction business owner was defined as anyone who self-reported as being a sole or part owner of a construction company with either 25 to 500 employees, $10 million to $500 million in revenue, or 20+ fleet vehicles. As a member of CASRO in good standing, Edelman Intelligence conducts all research in accordance with the Marketing Research Association’s (MRA) Code of Marketing Research Standards.


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