Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its annual report on workplace injury and illness data. This year, the major headline being reported is that from 2021 to 2022, the number of injuries and illnesses in private sector U.S. workplaces spiked 7.5 percent to 2.8 million incidents.
However, what isn’t being discussed enough is that for the third year in a row, injuries and illnesses in the construction industry decreased significantly. After dropping 13 percent in 2021 to 174,000, the number of injuries and illnesses in construction declined another 17 percent in 2022 to 144,480.
These are major strides for an industry that’s often perceived as a dangerous place to make a living. And it’s not just the total number of injuries and illnesses that’s dropped in construction – it’s the injury rate too.
Construction Gets Safer as Many Industries Grow More Dangerous
The overall injury and illness rate for private U.S. workplaces now sits at 2.7 per 100 workers. In construction, that number is 2.4. That means U.S. workers are more likely to experience a recordable injury or illness in a non-construction workplace.
These results aren’t a blip on the radar, either. The recordable rate for construction has now been below the average rate for all industries for three years in a row. It went from 2.8 in 2019 to 2.5 in 2020 and held steady in 2021 before dropping again in 2022.
As can be seen in the chart below, the data shows that many other industries that have long been considered “blue collar” have a much higher reported injury and illness rate than construction.
This same trend appears in the days away from work (DAFW) rate, a metric that combines recordable incidents with the resulting number of missed work hours. In 2022, construction’s DAFW rate was 1.0, which was lower than the average (1.2) and lower than manufacturing, retail, transportation/warehousing and health care/social work.
However, these numbers need to be assessed alongside two major caveats. First, this new BLS data only reflects recordable injuries and illnesses, and it’s well-known that many incidents go unreported. Underreporting remains a big problem for several reasons, including a workers’ compensation system that’s often slow and difficult to navigate, a lack of paid sick time in many industries and workers feeling pressured or intimidated about speaking up. For example, it’s estimated that 23 percent of the construction workforce is made up of undocumented workers; it’s easy to see how an unscrupulous employer could take advantage of that to discourage injury reporting.
Next, these numbers don’t include deaths on the job, only nonfatal incidents. While we’re still waiting for this year’s release of Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) data, construction has historically had one of the higher fatality rates among all industries. In 2021, construction had the highest number of deaths and the third-highest rate among all industries.
Using Safety to Recruit and Retain Workers
In today’s tight labor market, many companies are competing for the same group of available workers. Whether it’s a warehouse job, a manufacturing job or a construction job, workers have more choices than ever before. And they should be armed with accurate information about the safety and health risks of those industries so they can make the best decision for themselves and their families.
For decades, construction has been regarded as a dangerous job. And it can be extremely dangerous when work isn’t performed with the proper safety and health programs, protocols and procedures in place. It appears the industry as a whole is making significant, year-over-year strides when it comes to injuries and illnesses.
LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and other LIUNA affiliates can help change this decades-old perception by spreading the message that the industry is changing for the better and can improve even further. We should share that message with young people entering the workforce for the first time and with more experienced workers who may be considering a career change as construction work booms. Along the way, the LHSFNA will continue working with LIUNA signatory contractors to make jobsites safer and reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities in the industry.
When workers, families and communities start to view construction work as just as safe – or safer – than many other jobs, we can attract and retain even more workers to this industry. And once they’re here, it’s easy to tout the strong union wages, excellent benefits and powerful voice that being a LIUNA member brings to workers and their families.