A Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) Economic Commentary [PDF] estimates the economic burden of occupation injuries and fatalities in three Midwestern states from 2011 through 2013.

The report finds stark differences in the construction labor markets of Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa.

  • Illinois: had the highest construction worker union membership rate in the nation, a “strong” prevailing wage law, a very high productivity per worker, and a higher share of construction work completed by local contractors. In addition, 6.6 percent of Illinois’ construction worksites are visited by (Federal) OSHA inspectors per year.
  • Indiana: construction worker unionization was 6th in the nation and the state had an “average” prevailing wage law (now repealed), a productivity per worker that was slightly higher than the national average, and a medium share of construction work completed by local contractors. 7.6 percent of Indiana’s construction worksites are visited by (State Plan) OSHA inspectors per year.
  • Iowa: construction worker unionization was 13th in the nation, but the state did not have a prevailing wage law, productivity per worker was below the national average, and Iowa had the lowest share of construction work completed by local contractors of the three states. Just 6.1 percent of Iowa’s construction worksites are visited by (State Plan) OSHA inspectors per year.

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As a result, construction-related fatalities and injuries were lower in both Illinois and Indiana than in Iowa.

  • Illinois: there were 1.39 on-the-job workplace fatalities per 10,000 construction workers. The rate of nonfatal injuries and illness was 152.4 per 10,000 full-time construction workers in Illinois. The total estimated economic cost from construction-related deaths and injuries is approximately $270 million per year in Illinois.
  • Indiana: there were 1.67 on-the-job workplace fatalities per 10,000 construction workers. The rate of nonfatal injuries and illness was 117.4 per 10,000 full-time construction workers in Indiana. The total estimated economic cost from construction-related deaths and injuries is over $150 million per year in Indiana.
  • Iowa: there were 2.23 on-the-job workplace fatalities per 10,000 construction workers. The rate of nonfatal injuries and illness was 266.2 per 10,000 full-time construction workers in Iowa. The total estimated economic cost from construction-related deaths and injuries is about $125 million per year in Indiana.

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While construction remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the economy, steps can be taken to reduce the costs of construction-related fatalities and injuries. A “high road” approach to the construction industry improves worker training,  boosts worker productivity, and minimizes injury risks at minimal or no additional cost to taxpayers.

Four “high road” policy approaches that states have taken to ensure safe working conditions for construction workers are:

  1. Increasing resources to conduct OSHA inspections,
  2. maintaining state prevailing wage laws,
  3. introducing local responsible bidder ordinances,
  4. and avoiding the attack on construction trade unions.

Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and states around the country should enact legislation that creates a “high road” construction industry.