Construction work is very dangerous. While the construction industry and government agencies have taken many steps in the past years, construction remains a very risky place to work. Data compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the number of fatalities is disproportionate to the size of the workforce. The construction industry comprises only 5 % of the national work force yet has between 15% and 20% of total fatalities. While the overall trend as a percentage of the construction employment is trending downward, the construction industry still performs poorly compared to other sectors of the economy. It is important, therefore, to understand the nature of construction fatalities and put forward a strategy to make construction a safer place to work.
A great deal of research has been done to understand the causals factors related to construction accidents. It is known that construction workers are exposed to a wide range of hazards. Construction sites are generally multi-employer work sites. Safety responsibilities can become de-centralized when there are a number of contractors and tradesman coming and going. Construction projects are fast moving which increases the likelihood that hazards might be overlooked. There are often problems with workers and the work site. All of this adds up to a very dangerous place to work where accidents are multi-causal in nature.
This paper will review construction accident statistics, the types of hazards found on construction sites, the nature of construction work, and the research that has been done. The role of various stakeholders (owners, design professionals, general contractors, sub-contractors, workers) in reducing construction fatalities will be discussed. An eliminate-plan-prevent-protect strategy for reducing construction fatalities will be presented.
The concern over construction fatalities is supported by the year to year trends in fatality statistics. Exhibit 1 shows total workplace fatalities (all industries) and total construction fatalities in the United States for the years 1992 through 2012 using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There is a downward trend in total workforce fatalities from over 6,000 per year in the early 1990's to under 5,000 in recent years. Construction has remained fairly level over that same time period varying between 738 and 1239 fatalities per year. While these numbers may not seem significant, a nominal construction fatality rate of 1000 workers per year is 83 workers killed per month or 19 per week in one single industry.