Those of us working to improve safety and health in the construction industry want to put our limited time and resources to best use. This is why we are celebrating the release of the fifth edition of the Chartbook from CPWR.

This treasure trove of data (updated through 2010) shows us clearly where we have made significant progress over the past decade and where big problems, in terms of health and safety, still exist. Each of the 55 sections of the book is full of interesting information to help inform our policy choices. Sections summarize the state of the construction industry (such as the amount of spending and new information on green construction), labor force characteristics (including unionization rates, age, minorities), employment and income (including wage differentials between union and non-union workers, health care and retirement plan coverage), education and training (such as apprenticeship) and occupational safety and health (as well as lifestyle issues like smoking prevalence) including OSHA enforcement.

Below are a few highlights from the safety and health section:

  • Data from the DOL Employment and Training Administration’s Occupational Information Network O*NET focuses attention on those trades with the highest risks for musculoskeletal disorders and health problems.
  • Lead is still a problem, particularly in manufacturing, but also in building finishing and highway work.
  • The rate of construction fatalities is much lower in many other industrialized nations (e.g., Scandinavia and Canada), but the U.S. is doing better than most on non-fatal injury prevention.
  • Construction fatalities have declined significantly but are higher in certain states (South, Midwest, Mountain states) and among older workers and Hispanic workers.
  • Some trades have significantly higher rates of fatalities and injuries (e.g., ironworkers, power line installers and roofers).
  • The main causes of fatalities and injuries are still falls (a third of all fatalities and a quarter of all injuries), transportation (a quarter of all fatalities) and contact with objects (struck-bys account for a sixth of fatalities and a third of injuries). Overexertion/bodily reaction is still about a third of all injuries. Rates have decreased significantly in the past 20 years.
  • Fatal falls are mostly from roofs, ladders and scaffolds. Fall injuries are mostly slips on the same level and ladder falls.
  • Electrical hazards mostly kill power line installers and electricians, but laborers are most often killed by power line contacts.
  • Laborers are also most at risk for being struck by vehicles, particularly in road construction.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (sprains and strains) are still the biggest injury problem in construction, particularly among the masonry, concrete and drywall trades, with back injuries and back pain being the most common outcome.
  • Hearing loss is still a major problem, particularly among welders, ironworkers, boilermakers and carpenters, but all trades are affected.
  • U.S. DOE medical exams show that lung disease is still very common among construction workers at DOE sites.
  • OSHA continues to inspect about 20,000-25,000 construction sites a year, and citations and penalties have increased in recent years. The most common citations are for fall hazards, scaffolding, PPE and electrical hazards.

There is much to discover in this new edition. Download a free copy at and dive in. It will help us make an even bigger impact over the next few years until the next edition is released.

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