The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 08, 2013

Record low construction fatality, injury rates

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Michigan experienced a record-low eight construction fatalities in 2012. And low injury rates in the industry are becoming the norm, too.

“It’s amazing, construction has almost knocked itself out of the category of being a high-hazard industry in Michigan,” said Patty Meyer, director of MIOSHA’s Construction Safety and Health Division.

The construction industry fatality rate in Michigan has been dropping for the last few years. Our state experienced 10 construction fatalities in 2011, and 11 in 2010. But as recently at 2006, there were 26 on-the-job construction fatalities in Michigan. In the 1960s, an average of 44 construction workers died on the job every year.

The major drops in construction fatalities in recent years have likely mirrored the lower levels of statewide employment in the building trades. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. On-the-job construction injury rates have fallen as well. In 2011, Michigan’s construction industry DART Rate (Days Away, Restricted or Transferred) was 1.5 per 100 full-time workers – a 50 percent drop from 2006. Michigan’s DART rate in 2011 (the most recent year available), which reflects more serious injuries, tied us for 4th best among the states, after Louisiana, Illinois and Georgia.

“Even if the numbers are related somewhat to the economy, they’re encouraging,” Meyer said. “We have a construction industry in Michigan that’s buying into the safety culture. Contractors big and small have embraced safety on the job, and we’re so pleased to see that happen, and we want to keep it up.”

Over the past several years, the Construction Safety Division has recognized the positive shift in safety culture by forging partnerships with the state’s largest contractors who have made an enhanced commitment to safety.             The contractors agree to things like substance abuse testing, pre-task analysis, daily “safety huddles” with subcontractors, and 100 percent commitment to fall protection and personal protective equipment.

The safety partnerships can apply to larger projects with partner contractors employing 50-plus workers and with a dedicated safety person employed. Seven contractors have signed agreements with MIOSHA, and three more want to. For those contractors with proven safety track records,  “we’re just not going to spend the time with them,” Meyer said, although the partnership does not preclude MIOSHA from enforcing its mission of addressing complaints, fatalities, or serious accidents, nor does it infringe on the rights of employees to report workplace hazards.

“The MIOSHA program is dedicated to working with employers to find innovative ways to enhance workplace safety and health,” said Martha Yoder, MIOSHA Director.  “Through partnerships, MIOSHA can offer employers a voluntary, cooperative relationship to eliminate serious hazards and achieve a high level of safety and health.”

Meyer said that the safety culture in the state has improved so much that many of the larger contractors in Michigan have safety standards that are at levels higher than MIOSHA expects.

“Now we’re looking at where we’re going and we’re asking ourselves, what areas should we focus on next to keep this going?” Meyer said. One answer, she said, will be a focus on smaller contractors. “We’re finding most of our problems are with the smaller guys,” she said.