According to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 2019 was not a good year for construction safety. In total, 1061 construction workers were killed on the job, and 293 (28 percent) of them were construction laborers. The next highest number of construction worker deaths by trade was roofers at 96. As can be seen in the chart below, outside of one decrease between 2013 and 2014, the number of construction laborers killed on the job has been steadily increasing over the past decade.
In 2019, the majority of construction laborers died from falls, which accounted for 98 worker deaths (33 percent). Transportation incidents, including both incidents on the road and pedestrian worker deaths, were responsible for 73 deaths (25 percent). Exposure to harmful substances or environments – which includes electricity, temperature extremes and inhalation of harmful substances – killed an additional 49 workers (17 percent). Fifty-five construction laborers (19 percent) also died from contact with objects or equipment, which often means they were struck by falling or flying objects or powered equipment. Lastly, violence in the workplace accounted for 15 deaths to construction laborers in 2019.
Between 2011 and 2019, the number of U.S. workers killed on the job across all industries increased by 14 percent. While this rise is significant, it’s a fraction of what we’ve seen in the construction industry, where the number of construction laborers killed on the job in the same time has increased by 53 percent.
For a better sense of whether construction laborers faced greater hazards on the job in 2019 than they did in 2011, we have to look at the fatality rate. While the total number of worker deaths can be skewed based on other factors, such as many more workers joining the industry, CFOI fatality rates are always based on 100,000 full-time workers.
In 2019, the rate of fatalities among construction laborers was 15 deaths per 100,000, a significant increase from 2018 levels. The fatality rate is also where we see that while a greater number of construction laborers died on the job than any other trade, several other trades had much higher fatality rates. The highest fatality rate was among roofers (54 per 100,000); the rate among structural iron and steel workers was 26 per 100,000. First-line construction supervisors also had a high fatality rate at almost 19 per 100,000.
The increase in workplace fatalities from 2018 to 2019 was the largest we’ve seen since 2007 to 2008. Large increases in fatalities were also seen among older workers (over 55) and Hispanic/Latino workers; deaths among workers in both groups hit all-time highs in 2019.
According to the BLS data, one worker died on the job every 99 minutes in 2019. Analyzing these annual fatality numbers is always a reminder of the critical importance of health and safety practices on the job. Behind the overall numbers and fatality rates are lives lost and families changed forever. We must continue to do everything we can to prevent workplace fatalities.