The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 07, 2017

Study shines dome light on construction fatalities

By The Building Tradesman

The release of a new safety study which was performed “with an eye toward learning new methods of preventing worker fatalities in the construction industry” offers a few nuggets of information that may help the industry become a bit more self-aware about safety.

“In some cases, findings disrupted general preconceived perceptions,” said the study, released in April by The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America. The AGC commissioned the work, which was conducted by the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech, involving analyzing detailed, confidential fatality reports nationwide from 2010-2012.

“We all share a common goal: getting to zero construction fatalities,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “This report offers the kind of data and recommendations needed to help construction firms achieve that goal.”

The study used federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers over a three-year period, in order to gather more data points and to help determine trends. Overall, there were 2,338 construction industry fatalities in from 2010 to 2012.

Some new findings from the study:

•Most fatalities occurred between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a significant spike upward around noon. Previous studies found that the occurrence of fatalities was most prevalent between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and bottomed around noon. (The Midwest was the lone different region in this area, with fatalities peaking around 10 a.m.)

The study’s authors suggested contractors “distribute an urgent all-points-bulletin to workers that the most recent analysis of time-of-day data indicates the ‘lunch hour’ is the most prone to fatalities.” They also suggested further study on why the period around lunchtime is so deadly, and that there should be consideration to scheduling additional toolbox talks or safety meetings around the noon hour.

•Fatalities due to transportation and violence and other injuries increased during that three-year period while deaths due to exposure to harmful substances and fire and explosions decreased.

•Small construction establishments with 1-9 employees accounted for 47 percent of fatalities and the highest fatality rate at 26 fatalities per 100,000 workers annually. Most previous studies ignored the smallest establishments, the study said. Contractors employing 50-99 workers experienced fewer than five deaths per 100,000 workers, the lowest rate.

•Hispanic workers made up 24 percent of the workforce and accounted for 20 percent of highway and road work zone fatalities in 2010-2012. “This conflicts with the widespread perception that Hispanics are disproportionately victims of construction fatalities,” the study said.

Some findings that are consistent with existing studies:

•The “specialty trades” had significantly more fatalities than any other sector, accounting for 56 percent of deaths. Specialty trades are defined as workers for contractors that perform specific activities (e.g. concrete work, electrical, plumbing) but who are not responsible for the entire project. However, the heavy and civil sector had the highest annual fatality rate with 24 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

•Overall, most fatalities occurred in the South region (1,081 deaths, or 46 percent of the total 2,338 U.S. fatalities during those three years.) The South also experienced the highest annual fatality rate, 17 deaths per 100,000 workers). Next was the Midwest – which experienced 519 deaths, or 22 percent – and 16 deaths per 100,000 workers.

•Fatalities increased during the spring and summer months, peaking in August (12 percent), and decreasing through the winter to the lowest month for fatals, February, 5 percent.

•What day of the week is deadliest? There was not much difference between any of the weekdays Monday through  Thursday, all were in the 20 percent range. On Fridays, fatalities dropped a bit to 17 percent, and they were much lower on the weekends. 

•Falls remain the leading cause (33 percent) of deaths in construction, accounting for one-third of all fatalities. Transportation incidents accounted for 29 percent of fatalities. Transportation fatalities typically involved trucks (36 percent) and multi-purpose highway vehicles (31 percent), for example, pickups.

•Industrial project locations experienced the highest number of fatalities at 35 percent. Heavy and Residential and project locations accounted for 29 percent and 25 percent, respectively. The remainder of fatalities occurred at Commercial (5 percent) and Other (6 percent) locations.

•Younger and more inexperienced workers are most likely to lead the fatality numbers, right? Wrong. “Construction workers aged 35-54 accounted for 50 percent of fatalities,” the study said. “Younger and older workers, under 25 and 65 or over, represented relatively small proportions of fatalities, with 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively. When employment numbers were factored in, fatalities rates showed a steady increase from age 35.”

Historically, the proportions of fatalities among construction workers age 45 is growing, from 34 percent of all deaths in 1992, to 44 percent in 2005 to 52 percent in 2012. 

The AGC’s Sandherr said the association was sending the new safety report to each of its contractor-members, as well as to other construction associations and also making it available online. “No wisdom or insight should be proprietary when it comes to the safety of construction workers,” he said.