Leadership

How This Summer's Heat Wave Impacts Building's Talent Crisis

This Summer's snap test of whether homebuilding business culture's really ready to move in a positive direction on solving its skilled frontline worker crisis is plain as day, on the thermostat.

Leadership

How This Summer's Heat Wave Impacts Building's Talent Crisis

This Summer's snap test of whether homebuilding business culture's really ready to move in a positive direction on solving its skilled frontline worker crisis is plain as day, on the thermostat.

July 21st, 2023
How This Summer's Heat Wave Impacts Building's Talent Crisis
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This Summer's snap test of whether homebuilding business culture's really ready to move in a positive direction on solving its skilled frontline worker crisis is plain as day, on the thermostat.

Check out the mission, vision, purpose, and strategy statements of America's top homebuilding firms ... i.e. the website tabs that say, "we're about ..."

It's always ...

  • our customers
  • our investors
  • our partners
  • our people

You won't come across any that don't include "our people." It makes strategic common sense, whatever the order those four stakeholder groups take.

So, let's put this mission-critical focus point – team member safety, health, and conditions-to-thrive-in and contribute value -- in the context of now:

This morning's Wall Street Journal:

The relentless heat wave that has smothered parts of the country in triple-digit temperatures is drawing calls from workers’ advocacy groups and others for greater protections for those who work outside—from construction workers to farmworkers to garbage collectors."

The current issue of Scientific American:

Research shows that compared with their thinking about dramatic events such as storm surges and wildfires, people tend to feel more uncertain about what to do under the threat of extreme heat and don't perceive as much personal risk. This mismatch between the reality of the danger and the actions people take to protect themselves extends beyond individual perception to the policy level. Heat risks to human health are not often prioritized in climate mitigation and adaptation plans—if they are factored in at all."

The July 12th issue of The Texas Tribune:

There are no federal or state standards that specifically protect workers from heat illness, and Texas cities and counties will soon be barred from making local rules with that purpose. Now more than ever, like Álvarez’s case shows, heat safety depends on workers being trained in self-care, supervisors learning to identify symptoms of heat stress and employers’ willingness to provide breaks and other protective measures. [bolding by TBD, for editorial emphasis]"

A recent OSHA memorandum:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is an estimated 702 deaths, 67, 512 ER visits and 9,235 individuals hospital per year due to environmental heat exposure. In addition, there were nearly 100 worker deaths during the 2018 and 2019 calendar years (latest data available) according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Of 36 statistics about construction safety in a Procore analysis on the topic, conspicuous in its absence is any mention of "extreme heat" on job sites. Nonetheless:

Safety costs
23. $5 billion: The annual cost of construction-related deaths, measured in lost production, lost family income, and pain and suffering 14
24. $7.87 billion: The cost of workers’ compensation direct costs from the top five injury causes in construction. 17

And this note on what's ahead in a piece yesterday from Bloomberg:

Right now, the carousel isn’t moving. It’s been cemented in place for weeks, and forecasts show it’s going to stay that way.
Blame the jet stream — the “meandering river of wind that encircles the globe and creates our weather,” as climate scientist Jennifer Francis puts it.
Right now, it’s “unusually stuck in place,” said Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “The multiple devastating heat domes and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere in recent weeks are indeed connected.”

Here's the thing about the "context of now" and a core strategic focus on "people" in the homebuilding value creation chain. It's possible that that lens of focus on people may not fully recognize the full chain of human effort and contribution in that creation of value.

In the "context of now," extreme heat conditions overlay many of the geographies that are not only new home construction's most active markets. Further, where new starts and homes-under-construction are actually on the rise, added pressure falls on frontline work crews whose ranks may not have kept pace with the uptick in activity.

The risks are on them, and maybe they don't qualify as "our people" in a strict corporate accountability and responsibility sense. But they count when the value they contribute gets recognized. They count when they're conspicuous in their absence, if they're sick or injured.

A Harvard Business Review analysis on the issue puts a "context of now" dollar-figure on the macro impact of this matter:

The health risks to employees range from exhaustion, cramps, worsening mental health, diabetic complications, and even stroke. In addition, extreme heat is projected to cause the loss of more than $4 trillion annually in productivity by 2030.

The leadership dimension of this and "best practices" to protect people in the context of now come down – as is so often the case – to common sense and the Golden Rule.

Still, HBR contributing author Talia Varley, MD, who is physician lead, Advisory Services, at Cleveland Clinic Canada, recommends what comes down to a strategic, memorialized, and integrated approach to the issue, rather than a re-active or tactical response.

Some of her "steps" strike a chord for those laboring on residential construction job sites in so many of the more active markets:

  • take a preventative approach
  • understand "how hot is too hot, and for whom"
  • tailor training and safety for outdoor workers
  • practice acclimatization
  • adopt a long-term heat plan

Heat, like it or not, has always gone with the territory, only "in the context of now," Mother Nature seems to be kicking it up a notch. As HBR contributor Dr. Varley concludes:

Extreme heat can greatly impair the performance and health of your greatest assets — your people. As these high temperatures become more commonplace, employers must seize the opportunity to protect their employees today and into the future."

And if front line trade contractors and subcontractors don't fall technically under the umbrella of "our people," it's only homebuilding's leaders that can make it their business to effect that change and make a broader definition of "our people" their business. A job-site safety strategy, in other words, means action, not just talk when it comes to:

  • Training & education
  • Planning
  • Practice
  • Investment and commitment

Classic cornerstones to any strategic pillar ... including "our people."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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