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By: Kendall Jones on June 24, 2022

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Construction Worker Deaths Increase 5% in 2019, Largest Total Since 2007

Construction Safety

The construction industry again had the highest number of fatalities of all industries in 2019 with 1,061 worker deaths. This is a 5.3% increase over the 1,008 fatal injuries in 2018. It’s the highest total since 2007 when the industry recorded 1,204 fatal work injuries. The construction industry represented 21.6% of all private industry worker deaths in 2019.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Data and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, workers in the construction industry suffered over 200,000 nonfatal injuries and over 1,000 fatal injuries in 2019.

The fatal injury rate for the construction industry in 2019 was 9.7, which was up from 9.5 in 2018. For all workers, the fatal injury rate remained at 3.5 in 2019 and 2018. 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 23.1 per 100,000 FTE followed by mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction at 14.6 and transportation and warehousing at 13.9. All of those industries, with the exception of construction, saw decreases in their fatal injury rate in 2019.

The number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the construction industry increased from 199,100 in 2018 to 200,100 in 2019. The incidence rate for nonfatal injuries and illnesses dropped from 3.0 in 2018 to 2.8 in 2019.

Construction Jobs With the Highest Number of Fatalities in 2019

The top 10 occupations that resulted in fatal injuries in the construction industry in 2019 were:

  1. Construction Laborers – 293 deaths (259 in 2018)
  2. Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers – 136 deaths (144 in 2018)
  3. Roofers – 111 deaths (96 in 2018)
  4. Carpenters – 99 deaths (86 in 2018)
  5. Electricians – 68 deaths (80 in 2018)
  6. Construction Equipment Operators – 62 deaths (51 in 2018)
  7. Painters and Paperhangers – 42 deaths (31 in 2018)
  8. Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters – 40 deaths (37 in 2018)
  9. Highway Maintenance Workers – 21 deaths (14 in 2018)
  10. Structural Iron and Steel Workers – 18 deaths (15 in 2018)

Roofers had one of the top 10 highest fatal work injury rates for all occupations in all industries at 54.0, coming in fourth on the list. Construction trade helpers were fifth at 40.0 and structural iron and steel workers were eighth at 26.3.

Construction Nonfatal Injuries and Illnesses in 2019

Of the 200,100 recorded injuries and illnesses suffered by workers in the construction industry in 2019, 40% of them involved workers missing days away from work.

Those 79,660 injuries and illnesses that required days away from work resulted in 21,170 sprains, strains and tears; 15,150 incidences of soreness or pain; 13,190 fractures; and 10,950 cuts, lacerations, and punctures.

The median time away from work after suffering an injury or illness on the job in construction was 13 days in 2019, up from 10 days in 2017 and 2018. Of the 79,660 accident injuries involving days of work missed, 9,110 involved only one day away from work.

On the other end of the spectrum, 27,190 accident injuries involved 31 days or more away from work, or 34% of all accident injuries requiring days away from work. In addition to probably meaning those were severe illnesses injuries inflicted on workers, that’s a lot of lost productivity and man-hours for employers to have to deal with. It’s not clear yet if COVID-19 played any significant role in the increase of days away from work since these would have to be illnesses contracted on the job, not outside of 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 26,120. Next up was fall, slips, and trips which accounted for 25,460 injuries, with 13,770 being from falls to a lower level. Overexertion and bodily reaction caused 20,050 injuries and 3,760 were from transportation incidents.

Violence and other injuries by persons or animals were responsible for 550 injuries. Of those, 440 were from animal or insect-related incidents and 100 were from intentional injury by another person.

Fires and explosions caused 380 injuries and exposure to harmful substances or environments was responsible for another 2,500 injuries and illnesses.

Occupations With the Highest Number of Nonfatal Injuries in 2019

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

  1. Construction Laborers – 19,790 (20,430 in 2018)
  2. Carpenters – 11,670 (12,640 in 2018)
  3. Electricians – 7,400 (6,350 in 2018)
  4. Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters – 6,330 (5,780 in 2018)
  5. Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers – 5,130 (5,390 in 2018)
  6. Roofers – 3,850 (2,060 in 2018)
  7. Construction Equipment Operators – 3,630 (2,350 in 2018)
  8. Construction Trade Helpers – 2,770 (3,460 in 2018)
  9. Painters and Paperhangers – 2,730 (2,130 in 2018)
  10. Sheet Metal Workers – 1,730 (1,280 in 2018)

The number of injuries and fatalities that occur in the construction industry each year is troubling, especially since we are seeing increases both in total numbers and rates. Construction safety training needs to be a major focus for improvement in the industry.

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.