Fatal accidents in construction were on the rise again last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). And there is concern and chatter industry-wide about what can be done to fix the issues arising.
Of 4,679 total workplace fatalities in the United States last year, 874 of those – or 18.7 percent – occurred in the construction industry. That total is second only to the trade, transportation, and utilities industry’s 1,198 on-the-job deaths, and it's a number that is considered unacceptable to most construction safety professionals.
In fact, 2014 reported the highest fatality total in construction since 2008, when the industry saw 975 deaths. After 2008, fatality totals had steadily dropped by about 9 percent until 2012, when they started rising again. This past year marks the third year in a troubling time period for the industry. There were 828 total construction fatalities in 2013.
Perhaps most concerning is Fatal Four data, which is also on the rise. The Fatal Four – falls, electrocutions, struck-by incidents, and caught-in or compressed-by incidents – are the four most common types of fatal incidents in the workplace, and they’re even more common in construction.
The Fatal Four was responsible for 508 of the fatalities in construction in 2014 – a whopping 58.1 percent – and were responsible for 1,578 fatalities (33.7 percent) in all industries. That’s up from 478 in 2013.
These are the highest totals since 2008 as well, when the Fatal Four – sometimes called the Focus Four – contributed 577 deaths to the total count of construction fatalities.
As usual, falls were the guiltiest culprit in 2014, attributed to 349 fatalities (or 40 percent of the industry total). Electrocutions accounted for 74 deaths, followed by struck-by incidents with 73 and caught-in or caught-between incidents with 12.
The most common of all the Fatal Four incident causes, falls accounted for 40 percent of all construction industry fatalities, according to 2014 preliminary data from the CFOI.
Nearly all of these were falls to a lower level, including 163 falls of 20 feet or less. Construction employees recorded fatal incidents in the “slip or trip without fall” category, but deadly falls on the same level (not to a lower elevation) occurred eight times. Falls from collapsing structures or equipment accounted for 28 deaths, followed by 56 falls through surfaces or existing openings. “Other falls to lower level” accounted for 250 fatalities.
Of the category titled “Exposure to harmful substances or environments,” electrocutions were responsible for the most deaths – 74 people (8.5 percent) died due to exposure to electricity in 2014, according to the CFOI.
Of those, direct exposure accounted for 42 deaths, while indirect exposure accounted for 32. Exposure to 220 volts or less resulted in 18 deaths, leaving 56 deaths from exposure to more than 220 volts.
Workers who were struck by equipment or objects resulted in 73 construction fatalities in 2014, 8.4 percent of the industry total, proving that objects and equipment that are moving, rolling, flying, swinging, or falling can be especially dangerous.
Powered, non-transport vehicle struck-by incidents accounted for 22 construction fatalities, and other rolling objects were responsible for three deaths. Falling objects or equipment killed 39 construction workers, while discharged or flying objects killed five. Handheld objects and equipment claimed three lives.
Workers who were caught in, or compressed by, an object or piece of equipment resulted in 12 fatalities last year. Six of those involved running machinery, while three involved being pinched by shifting objects or equipment.
Not all information on caught-in incidents was available for the CFOI’s preliminary release of 2014 data.
How to Help
So what can the construction industry do to again curb the occurrence of potentially fatal injuries on job sites?