Construction Worker Deaths: Almost Half of All Construction Fatalities Caused by Falls

Construction Worker Deaths: Almost Half of All Construction Fatalities Caused by Falls

In this month’s issue of Safety and Health magazine, a publication of Illinois’ renowned National Safety Council, an alarming statistic is revealed from a new database called “the Construction FACE Database.”  The database itself is an online, searchable resource provided by  The Center for Construction Research and Training.  It is a codification of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigations and reports into fatal occupational injuries (deaths of workers on the job), which NIOSH has been compiling since 1982.

For more on this work injury database, read “The construction FACE database—Codifying the NIOSH FACE reports” (Dong XS, Largay JA, Wang X, Cain CT, Romano N. The construction FACE database – Codifying the NIOSH FACE reports. J Safety Res. 2017 Sep;62:217-225).

The scary statistic revealed in this new safety database? The fact that almost half of all fatal accidents involving the death of American Construction Workers are caused by falls. 

Go here to review the Indiana FACE Reports.

Go here to review the Illinois FACE Reports.

Shocking Number of Construction Worker Deaths from Falls

The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) discovered in its review of the NIOSH data that when construction on-the-job deaths were compared over the past 33 years, it was clear that falls were the likely reason that these construction workers died.  Specifically, 42% of the construction fatalities were the result of workers falling (slip and fall, trip and fall).

See, “42 Percent of Construction Worker Deaths Involve Falls, New Database Shows,” published by Safety and Health Magazine on January 30, 2018.

Moreover, over half of these construction workers who died while working on the job did not have fall protection provided to them. 

According to their research findings, 54% of these construction workers died in on the job accidents where there was no personal fall arrest system.  Another 23% had access to a personal fall arrest system but were not using fall protection measures at the time of their death (no supervision to enforce the safety measures).

Many of these deaths (33%) involved falls from a height of 30 feet (or more).  Most were experienced construction workers, but 20% of these fatalities did involve workers during their first two months working construction on the site.

Danger Is Part of the Job for Construction Workers

It’s not news that construction is a dangerous line of work.  Those on the job are well aware of the risks they face.  See, The Construction Workers’ Viewpoint: Work Site Safety and Suicide Rates.  And each year, it seems, the construction industry appears on the annual OSHA list of the Top Ten Safety Violations.  See, 2017 OSHA Top Ten List of Safety Violations.

However, what is becoming more and more obvious to everyone involved in construction safety issues, including those who represent grieving family members and loved ones in the aftermath of a fatal construction accident, is that falls on construction sites are at epidemic levels and too little is being done to solve this problem.

In the latest OSHA report on the top safety violations for worker safety on the job in the United States, the need for protection from falls made the OSHA Top Ten List TWICE  as safety violations recorded by OSHA.  The dangers faced by workers in fall injuries and the failure to protect these workers from fall accidents hit the list both at Number 9: “Fall Protection – Training Requirements” and at Number 1, “Fall Protection – General Requirements.”

See the OSHA Top Ten List of Safety Violations for 2017 here.  Specifically, these are the most frequently cited standards following OSHA inspections during fiscal year 2017.

The purpose of the OSHA Top Ten List is to “… alert employers about these commonly cited standards so they can take steps to find and fix recognized hazards addressed in these and other standards before OSHA shows up. Far too many preventable injuries and illnesses occur in the workplace.”  These lists are being published year after year.  And workers are still falling to their deaths on the job.

Fall Protection Failure

Here’s the thing.  When a worker dies in an accident on the job, employers are required under federal law to report that death to OSHA within 8 hours of the fatality.  This is because the federal agency wants to know about worker deaths on the job as soon as possible, so there can be a prompt agency investigation.

That’s how we know that there is such a huge problem in keeping all workers safe from dying in a fall while on the job, whatever the industry.  These deaths, unlike other injuries, must be reported to the Powers-that-Be.  So, we know that workers are dying from falls at alarming numbers in this country.  Especially those on the job in the construction trades. 

The Variety of Dangerous Construction Industry Jobs

The risk of dying on the job in a fall on a construction site may be even more high risk than these numbers suggest.  That’s because the construction industry is so varied.  There is residential construction, for instance.  There are also commercial construction projects like high rises that are built, as well as special construction endeavors like bridges, tunnels, and more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the construction industry overall that has the most workers dying from falls.  Within the industry overall, the CDC lists the following as construction workers at the greatest danger of dying in an on the job fall accident:

  • Building cleaning
  • Building maintenance
  • Transportation
  • Material moving
  • Extraction occupations.

Moreover, in the latest study of worker deaths by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the most dangerous risk of dying on the job within the construction industry were (1) first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers and (2) roofers.

Death of Construction Workers in Indiana and Illinois

In our next post, we’ll discuss more about this unacceptable trend within the construction industry that keeps construction workers in Indiana and Illinois facing death on the job in a fall (slip and fall, trip and fall) because of the failure to protect the workers with adequate fall protection on the job.

Sadly, we understand that construction falls can be serious, deadly accidents that are unacceptable tragedies for the victim working construction as well as that worker’s family. 

The new research confirms construction workers are still in great danger of dying in a fall on the job site because construction employers are not doing enough to keep these construction workers safe. Be careful out there!



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