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By: Kendall Jones on December 17th, 2021

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Construction Worker Deaths Decreased in 2020

Construction Safety

Good news. The number of fatal occupational injuries for the construction industry declined in 2020. The number of construction worker deaths in 2020 was 1,008, a 5.3% reduction from the 1,061 fatal work injuries in 2019. 

So the bad news is that the construction industry again led all industries in the total number of fatal occupational injuries. The construction industry accounted for 23% of all private industry worker deaths in 2020 according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

More bad news. The fatal injury rate for the construction industry in 2020 was 10.2, up from 9.7 in 2019. For all workers, the fatal injury rate dropped from 3.5 in 2019 to 3.4 in 2020. The fatal injury rate is calculated as the number of fatal occupations injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers.

Despite accounting for the highest number of worker deaths, the construction industry only had the fourth-highest fatal injury rate among all industries. Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting had a fatal injury rate of 21.5 followed by transportation and warehousing at 13.4 and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction at 10.5. With the exception of construction, all of those industries had a decrease in their fatal injury rate in 2020.

The number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the construction industry decreased from 200,100 in 2019 to 174,100 in 2020. The incidence rate for nonfatal injuries and illnesses also decreased from 2.8 in 2019 to 2.5 in 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Data.

Events Leading to Construction Worker Deaths in 2020

Of the 1,008 construction worker deaths in 2020, 368 were from falls, slips, or trips, 247 were from transportation injuries, 174 were caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments, and 153 were the result of contact with an object or equipment. 

Another 55 construction worker deaths were the result of violence or other injuries by people or animals and 9 were caused by fires and explosions.

Construction Jobs With the Highest Number of Fatalities in 2020

The top 10 occupations that resulted in fatal injuries in the construction industry in 2020 were:

  1. Construction Laborers – 308 deaths (293  in 2019)
  2. Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers – 88 deaths (136 in 2019)
  3. Roofers – 88 deaths (111 in 2019)
  4. Carpenters – 79 deaths (99 in 2019)
  5. Electricians – 70 deaths (68 in 2019)
  6. Construction Equipment Operators – 65 deaths (62 in 2019)
  7. Painters and Paperhangers – 53 deaths (42 in 2019)
  8. Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters – 30 deaths (40 in 2019)
  9. Helpers, Construction Trades – 19 deaths (20 in 2019)
  10. Structural Iron and Steel Workers – 16 deaths (18 in 2019)

Roofers had one of the highest fatal work injury rates for all occupations in all industries at 47.0. Construction trade helpers were at 43.3 and structural iron and steel workers were had a fatal work injury rate of 32.5 in 2020.

Construction Nonfatal Injuries and Illnesses in 2020

Of the 174,100 recorded injuries and illnesses suffered by workers in the construction industry in 2020, 43% of them involved workers missing days away from work.

Those 74,500 injuries and illnesses that required days away from work were the result of 20,640 sprains, strains, and tears; 14,190 incidences of soreness or pain; 9,840 cuts, lacerations, and punctures; and 9,710 fractures.

The median number of days away from work after suffering an injury or illness on the job in construction was 11 in 2020, down from 13 days in 2019. Of the 74,500 accident injuries involving days of work missed, 9,820 involved only one day away from work.

Around 30% of accident injuries in construction required 31 days or more away from work, for a total of 22,620. That number is down from 27,190 in 2019, which made up 34% of all nonfatal accidents or injuries in construction requiring days away from work.

Events Leading to Nonfatal Injuries and Illnesses in Construction

For the construction industry, contact with an object or equipment was the leading event for nonfatal injuries that involved days away from work at 22,470. Next up was fall, slips, and trips, which accounted for 21,510 injuries.  About half of those falls, 10,790, were falls to a lower level. Overexertion and bodily reaction caused 18,980 injuries and 6,580 were from exposure to harmful substances or environments.

Transportation incidents were the cause of 3,310 nonfatal construction worker injuries in 2020. Violence and other injuries by persons or animals were responsible for 700 injuries. Of those, 680 were from animal or insect-related incidents. Fires and explosions caused 230 injuries to construction workers on the job in 2020.

Occupations With the Highest Number of Nonfatal Injuries in 2020

The top 10 occupations that resulted in injuries or illnesses with days away from work in the construction industry were:

  1. Construction Laborers – 16,590 (19,790 in 2019)
  2. Carpenters – 11,960 (11,670 in 2019)
  3. Electricians – 7,270 (7,400 in 2019)
  4. Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters – 6,520 (6,330 in 2019)
  5. Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers – 5,090 (5,130 in 2019)
  6. Construction Equipment Operators – 2,780 (3,630 in 2019)
  7. Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers 2,220 (1,490 in 2019)
  8. Roofers – 1,960 (3,850 in 2019)
  9. Construction Trade Helpers – 1,990 (2,770 in 2019)
  10. Painters and Paperhangers – 1,640 (2,730 in 2019)

Workers need to know how to perform their jobs safely and are equipped with the proper safety and personal protective equipment. The rules and standards set out by OSHA are the bare minimum that employers are required to follow to ensure each and every worker makes it home safely at the end of each shift.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, productive, and prosperous New Year!

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About Kendall Jones

Kendall Jones is the Editor in Chief at ConstructConnect. He has been writing about the construction industry for years, covering a wide range of topics from safety and technology to industry news and operating insights.