Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Profiles in Safety and Health: Work Hazards of Mobile Homes

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Profiles in Safety and Health: Work Hazards of Mobile Homes

Article excerpt

Martin E. Personick is an economist in the Division of Safety and Health Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Judy R. Daley, an economist in the same division, prepared the data and analysis for this article from the Supplementary Data System. The article is the second in a series on high-risk industries that began with a profile of meatpacking in the January 1989 Monthly Labor Review.

Mobile homes are an inexpensive alternative to site-built housing; but such "manufactured housing" offers little shelter from on-the-job injuries for the industry's largely inexperienced work force

Homeownership, the great American dream, comes in many shapes and sizes. Traditionally, it is a detached home, townhouse, or condominium; but whatever that time-honored form, it is housing permanently built on a fixed site, in most instances by skilled construction workers and their helpers.

The mobile home, the subject of this article, does not square with this conventional image. It is built, not on location, but on factory assembly lines, and is then hauled on its wheels to a homeowner's site. Construction of mobile homes typically is carried out by workers trained on the job to do one of several standardized tasks, such as floor assembly.

Through the years, "manufactured housing" operations have experienced a high incidence of workplace accidents and injuries. Despite having been targeted for special study by Federal safety officials in the early 1970's, mobile home manufacturing has remained among the top 10 high-risk industries, as measured by Bureau of Labor Statistics annual surveys of occupational injuries and illnesses. At 28.9 per 100 full-time workers, the 1987 incidence rate of workplace injuries and illnesses in mobile homes was double that for construction industries (14.7)-the most hazardous major industry group-and more than triple that for private industries as a whole (8.3).' (See table 1.)

Industry description

Mobile home manufacturing was classified along with the manufacture of recreational vehicles until the early 1970's, when the former activity was assigned a separate industrial classigication.(2) As distinguished from travel trailers, mobile homes are generally more than 35 feet long, at least 8 feet wide, and do not have facilities for storage of water or waste. Further, unlike modular homes and other prefabricated buildings, the mobile home is designed to be towed on its own chassis, affixed with removable wheels and axles. Such "mobility", however, is mainly for transportation from the factory to the owner's homesite; given the expense and logistics of hauling, only a small fraction of mobile homes are moved thereafter.(3)

In 1987, the industry employed about 45,000 workers in some 350 plants nationwide. Seven States-Indiana, Califomia, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Texas-accounted for nearly seven-tenths of employment in mobile home manufacwring that year. Largely because of high transportation costs, the industry's markets are regional rather than national in character. Also, among the four census regions, most mobile homes are manufactured and placed for residential use in the South, especially outside of metropolitan areas .(4)

Product profile

Through the years, the number of mobile homes has increased dramatically. Today, the estimated 5 to 6 million mobile/manufactured homes in place constitute about 5 percent of the Nation's housing stock. In recent years, annual shipments of about a quarter million mobile homes have accounted for 10 to 15 percent of new additions to housing, defined as manufactured housing shipments plus private single-family housing starts. More strikingly, at an average 1987 price of $23,700, mobile homes dominate the lower end of the housing market.(5)

The size of most mobile homes has increased well beyond the definition of the minimum dimensions of a mobile home (8 by 35 feet), as buyers continue to demand more floor space and various amenities-fireplaces and central air conditioning, for exampleoften found in site-built new homes. …

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