The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lower trend welcome for Michigan’s construction fatality rate

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – There aren’t too many positive employment trends in Michigan’s construction industry. But there is some very good news in one area.

Michigan’s fatality rate in the construction industry has been falling in recent years. Michigan experienced 11 construction fatalities in 2010. That’s one more than in 2009, which was the historic low point for building trades fatalities since MIOSHA came into existence in 1974.

As recently as 2006 there were 26 construction industry fatalities in Michigan. That number dropped to 11 fatalities in 2007 and 15 in 2008. In the pre-MIOSHA 1960s, an average of 44 Michigan construction workers were killed on the job every year.

“Of course one of the reasons for the lower fatality rate has to be that work is substantially down,” said Patty Meyer, acting director of MIOSHA’s Construction Safety and Health Division. “But I think there’s more to it than that. It starts with a commitment from the owners making it a priority that their jobs be safe. Then, I think you definitely have to figure in the cooperative safety programs, alliances and partnerships we have with our contractors and workforce. The industry has really helped us improve safety, and our efforts are working.”

The causes of the 11 fatalities in Michigan in 2010 were in line with historic trends. There were victims of falls (three); “crushed by” (three); cave-ins (two); “struck-by” (one); electrocution (one), and chemical exposure (one). Falls and electrocutions are usually the leading cause of fatalities for construction workers.

The state’s construction industry injury and illness rate has been declining, too – big time. In 2000, the state’s Construction Safety and Health Division recorded 9.2 injuries per 200,000 man-hours worked. That number declined to 3.2 injuries per 200,000 man-hours worked in 2009, the most recent statistics available.

And in the category that shows the more serious construction injuries – DART, or Days Away Restricted or Transferred – the injury rate declined from 4.7 per 200,000 man-hours worked in 2000, to 1.4 in 2009.

“That’s phenomenal,” Meyer said. “We had the most significant drop in the region.” She said between 2005 and 2009, the overall U.S. DART injury rate dropped 32 percent. During that time in Michigan, the rate dropped 51.7 percent.

MIOSHA’s Construction Safety and Health Division has brought a number of safety initiatives to the construction industry. Several of the state’s larger general contractors – Walbridge, Barton Malow and Christman, to name some of the larger firms – have pledged to make worker safety part of their culture, as have contractor associations.

On of the most recent signers-on is the Associated General Contractors of Michigan, which launched a “strategic alliance” with MIOSHA on Jan. 28.

“It stresses the importance of construction safety and health on the project site,” said Pete Anderson, Safety Director, AGC of Michigan. “It shows commitment on the part of the project management team to achieving zero lost work time due to accidents, if not the total elimination of injuries and work related health problems.”

The key goals of the alliance includes promoting: enhanced awareness of worker safety and health to AGC of Michigan members; worker safety through education and training opportunities at the jobsite; increased implementation of accident prevention programs at members’ job sites; and both regular and unscheduled MIOSHA Consultation Education and Training Division safety and health hazard surveys.

“The industry’s focus on safety education is working,” Meyer said. “The tradespeople have bought into this, too, and that’s so important to what we’re doing.”