Though there are many dangers lurking on job sites across the United States, there are few occupations that pose a greater risk to worker safety than construction. Still, there is a general sense that construction is even riskier than the facts suggest. And it is that perceived risk that has, in recent years, made it tough for many construction companies to hire qualified candidates and retain the workers they need to build the nation’s buildings, roads, bridges, and other structures. Moreover, lack of trustworthy information on the topic of construction safety can make it difficult for would-be applicants to properly assess the real risks and weigh them against the financial benefits. A proper understanding of construction injury and death statistics can help to dispel much of the confusion.
Disproportionate Share of Injuries
Construction is dangerous, regardless of whether its true risks might sometimes be exaggerated for effect. The fact is that the construction industry has received a tremendous amount of attention from those interested in increasing worker safety. Despite that effort and focus, the industry continues to experience a rate of injury that is much higher than many other occupations. In 2004, the number of construction workers in the United States represented just under 8% of the American workforce. And yet it experienced 22% of all fatal accidents and an injury rate that was 71% above the average rate for all other occupations.
Moreover, all those injuries represent not only an incredible toll in terms of human life and living standards but in terms of financial cost as well. An examination of those costs for the year 2002 estimated the total price tag for all construction injuries and fatalities at $11.5 billion. The per-instance cost for each injury totaled $27,000 a person, which was much higher than the $15,000 cost associated with non-construction workplace injuries.
The Risk of Falling
One thing is crystal clear when you examine the statistics for construction injuries in all fields of construction, and that is the fact that falls account for a significant portion of the fatal incidents. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fall protection is the most ignored safety standard, accounting for fully 39.9% of all construction deaths in 2014. There were a total of 874 construction deaths that year, and 349 of them involved falls.
None of that is new, of course. The Center for Construction Research and Training has been following these numbers for some time, and 2014’s fall-related fatality rate was only slightly higher than it was four years prior. In 2010, the total number of construction fatalities resulting from worksite falls stood at 267 – which was about one-third of all construction deaths that year. That trend has been consistent in the Center’s tracking: in the years spanning 1992 through 2010, roughly 360 fatal construction falls occurred each year. That’s almost one a day.
Of course, there are even more people injured each year in construction jobs. In 2009, there were a total of 92.540 nonfatal injuries to construction workers that resulted in employees missing time away from work. That year, there were a total of 4.3 such injuries for every 100 workers in the construction industry. About twenty percent of those injuries were the result of falls suffered on work sites. Altogether, construction worker injury rates for that year ranked that occupation seventh on the list of injuries suffered by industry.
A Fatal Problem in Texas
Obviously, one would expect that areas of the country with rapid growth and a great deal of construction would experience higher accident and fatality rates on construction sites. That certainly appeared to be true in 2012 when Texas ranked at the top of the list of states with construction fatalities. That year, 105 construction workers lost their lives on job sites around the state.
Danger on the Roads
Falls and other dangers in building sites are far from the only risk construction workers must confront. According to the Department of Transportation, workers on the nation’s roads and highways face incredible risk as well. In 2010, there were more than 87,000 vehicle crashes that occurred in roadside work zones – a total of 1.6% of all crashes for that year. As is true with most crashes, the majority of these instances did not lead to fatalities. Workers do get hurt, however, from collisions with cars and other dangers in those work zones that include slips, falls, and exposure to dangerous substances or accidents with equipment and tools.
In 2010, there were more than 87,000 vehicle crashes that occurred in roadside work zones – a total of 1.6% of all crashes for that year.
The Odds Are Alarming
Unlike most industries in which safety concerns are typically an afterthought for most workers, the construction field represents dangers that cannot be ignored. Even the odds are seemingly against any worker going through an entire career without at least one serious injury. Research from the Center for Construction Research and Training, published by Safety and Health Magazine, a study of available data from official sources concluded that those odds are alarming indeed.
Assuming a career of a base 45 years of work in the construction field, the data suggests that any given worker has a 75% chance that he or she will suffer some type of debilitating injury at some point in time. Moreover, each of those construction workers has a one in two-hundred chance that he or she will die as a result of an incident on a job site.
Given those statistics, it is understandable why so many new entrants into the workplace give serious consideration to potential danger before committing to a job in construction. There is no arguing with the notion that construction work in all its forms is among the most grueling forms of employment in existence. And while the pay can be quite high, especially for those with limited education, the toll the work takes on the body over a lifetime of exertion can be extremely demanding.