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Published: November, 2011; Vol 8, Num 6

 

Progress Evident in BLS Injury and Illness Report

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that construction injury rates continue to fall in the U.S. Rates fell for the fifth straight year.

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

In construction in 2010, four out of every 100 full time workers were injured on the job. This is a seven percent drop from 2009. Only 1.5 of them required days away from work. This mirrors a significant drop in the number of 2010 fatalities in construction.

What has caused this drop?

Several factors contributed to the decline:

  • A heightened emphasis on safety in the industry
  • Stronger OSHA enforcement
  • The dramatic reduction in work in 2009-2010 (16-20% unemployment)

The data in the table track the reduction in reported injury rates over the last ten years. “Reported” is an important word because, as the Fund's Labor Co-Chairman and LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni pointed out four years ago, much of the 2002-2004 drop must be traced to loosened reporting requirements that were instituted by the Bush Administration in 2001.

Construction
Injury Rates

Year Injury
Rate
Change
from
Previous
Year
2010 4.0 7%
2009 4.3 9%
2008 4.7 20%
2007 5.9 6%
2006 6.3 0%
2005 6.3 2%
2004 6.4 6%
2003 6.8 4%
2002 7.1 10%
2001 7.9  

Despite the reported decline, real injury rates remained high and, in combination with the rising cost of health care, led to a national crisis in workers’ compensation insurance rates. In several states, the legislature had to step in to prevent a collapse of these state-regulated markets.

Heightened Safety Emphasis among Employers

Feeling the pressure of rapidly escalating workers's compensation rates, contractors – especially smaller companies – gradually responded with more attention to jobsite safety. In the last two years of the Bush Administration (2007 and 2008), this added attention produced lowered rates. That trend has continued during the first two years of the Obama Administration.

Stronger OSHA Enforcement

Under Obama appointee Dr. David Michaels, OSHA has adopted a more aggressive enforcement stance and announced plans for several new standards. While the standards agenda has stalled in the face of the nation's general political polarization, OSHA's determined enforcement efforts have further spurred industry awareness and responsiveness, adding to the improved data for 2009 and 2010.

Serious Recession

The housing recession, which hit construction particularly hard, started in 2007, spreading to other areas of construction in the second half of 2008 and throughout 2009. By shutting down construction relatively more than other, less dangerous sectors of the economy, the recession contributed to the sharp, 2008 improvement in injury data. And, as a new study from Austria points out, the recession may also be a factor in the 2009 and 2010 declines since workers report fewer injuries during hard times because they feel less secure in their jobs.

“These statistics,” says Sabitoni, “show we have made real progress, in part due to the OSH professionals at the Fund and throughout government and industry. But there are real workers behind the data, thousands of construction workers suffering serious injuries that can devastate their lives, families and careers. We are inspired to push even harder for improvements that further reduce our industry’s injury and illness rate.”

The LHSFNA's Occupational Safety and Health Division can assist LIUNA signatory employers with assessments of worksite hazards and the development of safety programs that will reduce injuries and insurance costs. For assistance, contact the Division at 202-628-5465.

[Scott Schneider and Steve Clark]