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“What Are the Chances?”

When it comes to the health and safety of workers, no day stands out more than April 28th – Workers’ Memorial Day. On that day, organizations and employers across the world take time to remember the workers who have lost their lives in construction and other industries.

Workers’ Memorial Day seems an appropriate time to highlight the very real risk construction workers face – and to search for new ways to protect them. We know that about 800 construction workers die on the job each year, but until recently, we haven’t known what the risks in construction are over an entire career. New studies from the CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training – are now attempting to estimate that risk.

What is the lifetime risk of getting killed on the job if someone spends an entire career in construction? The answer is about one in 200. The risks were higher for some trades than others. For example, the risk for ironworkers was six times the average and the risk for construction laborers was twice the average. According to the CPWR, the largest areas of risk are falls and transportation incidents. (Note: this study was for all construction workers, not just union labor.)

What about the risk for an injury that causes missed work days? The study showed a 78 percent chance of that occurring, with the chances for construction laborers being 88 percent. The CPWR based these estimates on a 45-year career in construction. While many workers, including Laborers, don’t spend their entire working lifetimes in construction, the study does show the potential risks. Broken down yearly, the risk of construction laborers suffering a lost work day injury is about two percent a year.

The CPWR also estimated the lifetime risks of certain occupational diseases. Unlike fatalities and injuries, which are single events, the effects of other exposures (e.g., silica, noise) are cumulative. A lifetime of work in construction was estimated to result in a 16 percent chance of getting chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD), an 11 percent chance of having an abnormal chest X-ray and a 74 percent chance of suffering hearing loss.

The chart below shows these lifetime risks specifically for construction laborers:

Injury rates and the risk of fatalities have steadily declined over the years, but these studies clearly show that the risks are still very real, especially when considered over an entire career.

Here at the LHSFNA, we believe that the training LIUNA members receive, combined with the efforts of responsible signatory contractors, will result in jobsites with fewer injuries and health concerns than the CPWR study suggests. However, even though LIUNA members are likely at lower risk than other construction laborers, these risks can still be lowered further.

It’s all the more reason to dedicate ourselves this Workers’ Memorial Day to preventing work-related injuries, fatalities and occupational diseases. We have come a long way, but we have a lot of work left to do.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]

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