BLS Report Shows Decrease in Number of Private Construction Fatalities
September 8, 2010

Are workplaces and jobsites becoming safer? Possibly. According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), preliminary results of its 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) saw 4,340 fatal work injuries, down from 5,214 fatal work injuries in 2008. The BLS says the 2009 total represents the smallest annual preliminary total since the CFOI program was first conducted in 1992.

Looking at the construction industry specifically, it, too, saw declines last year in terms of fatalities. The report notes that while construction workers incurred the most fatal injuries of any industry in the private sector in 2009, the number of fatalities in construction declined 16 percent after a decline of 19 percent in 2008. With this decrease, private construction fatalities are down by more than a third since reaching a series high in 2006. According to the BLS, economic conditions may explain much of this decline, as the total hours worked declined 17 percent in construction in 2009, after a decline of 10 percent the year before.

Fatal injuries involving workers in the construction of buildings were down 27 percent from 2008, with most of the decrease occurring in nonresidential building construction (down 44 percent to 55 cases). The buildings construction segment saw 150 fatalities, which included 49 falls and nine occurrences where the victim was struck by an object. While the specialty trade contractors subsector had the largest number of fatal work injuries, it reported 16 percent fewer fatalities in 2009 than in 2008. The subsector saw 477 fatalities, including 39 falls and nine occurrences where the victim was struck by an object.

Likewise, fatal work injuries in construction and extraction occupations decreased by 16 percent in 2009 after declining 17 percent the previous year. Construction trades worker fatalities were down 16 percent (from 726 in 2008 to 607 in 2009). Fatal work injuries involving construction laborers, the worker subgroup accounting for the highest number of fatalities in this occupational group, declined by 7 percent in 2009 to 224 fatal work injuries.
According to the report, fatal falls declined 12 percent in 2009 (from 700 in 2008 to 617 in 2009) and overall are down 27 percent from the series high of 847 fatal falls reported in 2007. About half of all fatal falls occur in construction, so the decline in overall construction activity and employment since 2007 may account for the lower number of fatal falls over the past two years, reports the BLS. Fatalities involving contact with objects or equipment were down 22 percent in 2009 after increasing in 2008.

Some construction industry groups and organizations have created programs and initiatives designed to encourage safe jobsite practices. For example, in 2005 the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), its signatory employers and the Painters and Allied Trades Labor Management Cooperative Initiative (LMCI) launched a program with the goal of instilling a new culture of safety in the workplace. 

“It's called STAR: Safety, Training, Awards, Recognition. Basically it's an incentive based program funded by the LMCI and our employers to reward workers for attending advanced safety training classes and maintaining a safe jobsite record in

 the workplace,” says Kevin LaRue, administrator, Painters & Allied Trades – LMCI. “Those who meet both of those criteria are invited to attend an awards ceremony at the end of the program year where they're eligible to win a number of very nice prizes. Some programs are so large and well attended that pick-up trucks are given away.”

When the program began in 2005 nine out of 30 U.S. IUPAT district councils participated; by 2009 22 participated.

“This is definitely something that is being embraced by our employers because of the economic advantages of having work sites with excellent safety records,” adds LaRue. “And that's where the success of this program comes from because it's a win-win situation for everybody: our workers are safer on the jobsite and have the opportunity to get rewarded for it with some great prizes, and our employers enjoy a better bottom line since they're seeing a reduction in costs such as workers' compensation claims, among other things.”

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