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Construction Deaths on the Rise in Nearly Every Category

In November, the LHSFNA reported some promising safety and health news for the construction industry – workplace injuries and illnesses decreased for the third year in a row, dropping below the rate for the average U.S. workplace. However, that data didn’t include fatal injuries on the job, only non-fatal incidents. With the recent release of 2022 fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we now have a more complete picture of what’s going on in the industry.

LIUNA General President Brent Booker
LIUNA General President Brent Booker

“By monitoring safety and health trends across the industry, we can help equip LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and signatory employers with the tools necessary to protect LIUNA members,” said LIUNA General President and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Brent Booker. “Behind every one of these statistics is a real person who lost their life just by going to work. There’s nothing more important than preventing that from happening to someone else.”

In 2022, there were 5,486 fatalities across all U.S. workplaces – a 5.7 percent increase from 2021. The fatal work injury rate also rose, from 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2021 to 3.7 in 2022. Notable trends included the following:

  • Transportation-related deaths increased again. This category remained the most frequent type of fatal event and accounted for 38 percent of deaths in U.S. workplaces.
  • Extreme temperatures are killing workers. Deaths from extreme temperatures increased 19 percent. Deaths from environmental heat went from 36 in 2021 to 43 in 2022.
  • At-risk groups need more support. In virtually every hazard category, Black and Hispanic workers, older workers and female workers experienced higher fatality rates than average.

“Every worker death has profound impacts on family, friends, co-workers and communities,” said Doug Parker, the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. “That is why investing in worker safety and health must be a core value in every workplace across the country.”

Analyzing Worker Fatalities in Construction

In the construction industry, there were 1,056 workplace fatalities in 2022, an 11 percent increase from 2021. Construction made up almost 20 percent of all workplace deaths and had the second most deaths of any industry.

Here’s how those 1,056 deaths on the job happened in the construction industry, broken down by BLS category:

  • 423 from slips, trips and falls
  • 204 in transportation incidents
  • 191 exposures to harmful substances/environments
  • 169 incidents of contact with objects or equipment
  • 47 incidents of violence and injuries by people/animals
  • 20 from fires/explosions

With the exception of deaths from exposure to harmful substances and environments, every other category saw an increase from 2021 to 2022. What can safety and health professionals in the construction industry take away from these statistics?

The two categories with the largest increase were contact with objects and equipment (up 25 percent) and violence/injuries by people or animals (up 15 percent). These are significant year-over-year increases that should become areas of emphasis for construction employers during pre-job hazard analysis and during each project.

Preventing Contact with Objects and Equipment

Contact with objects and equipment can take many forms. Workplace fatalities occur most often from runovers/backovers from vehicles or large equipment and workers being struck by heavy loads, including overhead or suspended loads.

The LHSFNA strongly recommends contractors implement internal traffic control plans (ITCPs), which establish designated driving areas on worksites. Worker access to these areas is then limited, reducing the likelihood of workers on foot coming in contact with a construction vehicle. Proper planning via ITCPs also reduces the need for large vehicles (and their large blind spots) to back up and requires the use of spotters when those vehicles are backing.

Construction contractors can also implement policies around overhead loads and train workers to work safely around cranes and other suspended loads. For more information, LIUNA signatory contractors can order the Fund’s Internal Traffic Control Plans pamphlet, Spotter Safety toolbox talk, Overhead Loads toolbox talk and Working Around Cranes toolbox talk.

Preventing Violence/Injuries by People

While construction laborers do sometimes encounter dangerous insects and animals on the job, these encounters are rarely fatal. Instead, it’s incidents of workplace violence, self-harm and drug overdose that are increasing. Unfortunately, these trends aren’t unique to construction. For example, suicides on the job increased 13 percent overall across general industry in 2022.

Workplace violence can take many forms. The plans and steps needed to harden a site against an active shooter are different from the training needed to stop workplace harassment or bullying that could escalate into physical violence. For more information, LIUNA signatory contractors can order the Fund’s Workplace Violence Prevention manual and Workplace Violence toolbox talk.

The Fund has written extensively about the need to support LIUNA members facing opioid addiction and members struggling with their mental health. We’ve been spotlighting programs in several LIUNA Regions designed to raise awareness around mental health and prevent suicide in the construction industry.

For more information, visit the Fund’s Suicide Prevention Resources page and our Mental & Emotional Health page. LIUNA signatory employers can also order the Fund’s suicide prevention posters, Suicide Prevention Lifeline wallet card, Suicide Prevention pamphlet and Understanding Mental Health pamphlet.

[Nick Fox]

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