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Published: September, 2007; Vol 4, Num 4

 

Construction Hazards Detailed in BLS Data

Alternate description

LIUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan

“Each day in 2006, we were reminded of how dangerous a construction site can be,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, responding to a LHSFNA analysis of the most important causes of construction tragedies in 2006. “With an average of one laborer killed on the job each day last year, this is not a pleasant analysis. Yet, it’s only by knowing how these workers were hurt that we can focus our prevention activities so that each member can return safely to their home and family at the end of their work shift.”

According to preliminary, 2006 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1,226 construction workers lost their lives in on-the-job incidents in the U.S., an increase of three percent from 2005. Three hundred and sixty of these (27 percent) were construction laborers.  The rate of construction fatalities declined for the second straight year, from 12.0 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to 10.8 last year, but clearly not enough.

Causes

LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, who prepared the analysis, obtained laborer-specific data from the BLS. It includes all laborers, not just LIUNA members.

Just under a third (118) of construction laborers died in falls – almost all, falls to a lower level. Over a third of these (39) were falls from a roof. The other significant groups were falls from ladders (18) and scaffolds (20).

Almost a quarter (89) were killed in transportation incidents. About 40 percent of these (35) were highway accidents, but 43.8 percent (39) were workers hit by vehicles while working on foot (that is, as pedestrians).

Almost ten percent (35) were hit by a falling object.

About six percent (23) were electrocuted, most likely by contact with overhead power lines. Eight died because of lack of oxygen, in confined spaces or drowning. Deaths also occurred due to explosions and fires (ten) and violent acts or assaults (eight).

Could these deaths have been prevented?

According to Schneider, with a combination of stronger safety programs, more consistent implementation, better supervisor and worker awareness, improved OSHA standards and more OSHA enforcement, many of these deaths could have been prevented.

Fall fatalities could be dramatically reduced by designing fall prevention into projects (to make it easier to tie off) and requiring 100 percent fall protection at heights of six feet or more.

Pedestrian fatalities could be prevented by using Internal Traffic Control Plans and spotters or new technologies such as back up video or radar systems.

Overhead power line fatalities would be avoided by implementing the recommendations of the OSHA Cranes and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking committee which recommended a new standard four years ago with provisions to prevent overhead power line contacts.

Confined space fatalities could be prevented by an OSHA standard on confined spaces in construction. Currently, the confined space standard (issued 14 years ago) only applies in general industry. The construction standard was supposed to have been proposed last spring, but has again been delayed.

Of course, stronger enforcement of existing standards and targeting the enforcement to the worst job sites would also have a big impact. For instance, 22 percent of all construction fatalities occur in residential construction, an area that is not well-inspected by OSHA.

With laborers coming from many nations, more resources should be put into hiring bilingual supervisors, safety trainers and OSHA enforcement personnel, and OSHA should expand outreach programs for workers in both English and the workers’ native languages.

The LHSFNA publishes a wide array of safety materials, including more than 50 health alerts on specific topics. Participating employers, LIUNA local unions and Laborers’ training centers can order these online. For more detailed information on the 2006 preliminary data, see this BLS chart of total worker fatalities. 

[Steve Clark]