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Number of Worker Deaths in Construction Continues to Rise

The number of workplace fatalities continued to rise in 2016, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) found a total of 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2016, a seven percent increase from 2015. This is the third consecutive year workplace fatalities have increased, and the first time more than 5,000 fatalities have been recorded since 2008.

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

“This news shows a disturbing trend for workplace safety and health,” said LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Safety is not a priority in many workplaces across the U.S. and workers are paying the price. LIUNA and its signatory contractor partners know that many of these incidents can be prevented when workers get the training they need and are empowered to correct hazards in the workplace.”

Key findings for general industry included the following:

  • Transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event in 2016, accounting for 40 percent of all deaths. More workers lost their lives in transportation incidents than any other type of event.
  • Violence caused by other people and animals jumped 23 percent to become the second most common fatal event.
  • On-the-job overdoses increased 32 percent from 2015. Fatalities linked to overdoses have increased by at least 25 percent every year since 2012.

Of those 5190 fatalities, 970 of them were in the construction industry. That means about one in five of all workplace fatalities happened in construction. Put another way, about 80 workers each month lose their lives in construction. Falls remained the most hazardous event in construction and were responsible for 379 fatalities (up from 348 in 2015). Many construction laborers also interact with heavy equipment and powerful tools on a daily basis; over a quarter of construction laborer deaths in 2016 were caused by unintentional contact with equipment. In terms of equipment, backhoes, front-end loaders, cranes, grading machinery and aerial lifts contributed to construction worker deaths more often than other equipment. Construction actually saw slightly fewer transportation-related fatalities in 2016, but trench fatalities spiked by 30 percent, reaching 37 in 2016 (up from 26).

Construction laborers led all trades with 254 of the 970 deaths in the industry, followed by roofers at 101 deaths (their highest number ever), carpenters at 99 fatalities, painters at 52 and operators at 46. Nonfatal injuries remained relatively common among construction laborers, totaling 24,650 in 2016 alone. Injuries to the hand were the most common, followed closely by back injuries. While the rate of fatalities among construction laborers actually decreased slightly (from 15.6 per 100,000 workers to 15.1), construction laborers are still four times more likely to be killed on the job than the average employee.

While not all U.S. workplaces became more dangerous in 2016, one thing that’s clear from the data is that the risk of dying on the job is not the same for all workers. Notable findings included:

  • Fatalities among Asian workers increased by 40 percent – the largest increase among any race or ethnic origin.
  • Black or African-American workers also had a large increase in fatalities (19 percent), while fatalities among Hispanic or Latino workers dropped three percent.
  • Workers age 55 year and over had the highest number of workplace deaths since CFOI began tracking age data in 1992. In 1992, workers age 55 and over accounted for 20 percent of fatalities; in 2016, they accounted for 36 percent. Workers over 55 also have the highest fatality rate of any age group.
  • First-line supervisors of construction trades (foremen) and extraction workers and landscaping and groundskeeping workers all had their highest fatality counts since CFOI adopted the Standard Occupational Classification system.

In many ways, this CFOI data from 2016 is the ultimate lagging indicator. For a few years, safety and health professionals have been watching for an increase in fatalities caused by the large upturn in construction activity since the Great Recession. This report serves as confirmation of what we already knew. The issue now is about applying well-known solutions and not wasting time rolling back OSHA standards, enforcement and industry best practices. Construction activity is at an all-time high and now is the time to stop this trend of serious injuries and fatalities.

[Walter Jones is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety & Health.]

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