A new Economic Commentary [PDF] released by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute compares the working conditions of 5 Midwest construction labor markets: Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The report finds that worker fatalities result in high economic burdens for Midwest states, but that Minnesota has the safest construction industry out of the 5 states.
Though interconnected, construction workers experience very different labor market frameworks in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. This is evident based on unionization rates, productivity levels, compensation levels, and even applicable state legislation – such as state prevailing wage laws or right-to-work laws which alter the makeup of state construction industries.
Minnesota and Wisconsin lead the 5 states in having the highest construction unionization rates, worker productivity levels, and average hourly wages. Construction workers are much more productive and better paid in Minnesota compared to the comparison states due to their higher unionization rate and the presence of a stronger prevailing wage law in the state.
Due to their higher unionization and more productive workforce, Minnesota and Wisconsin also have safer construction labor markets than Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
- Minnesota – The fatal workplace injury rate was 1.1 deaths per 10,000 construction workers in Minnesota.
- Wisconsin – The fatal workplace injury rate was 1.4 deaths per 10,000 construction workers in Wisconsin.
- Iowa – The fatal workplace injury rate was 2.2 deaths per 10,000 construction workers in Iowa.
- North Dakota – The fatal workplace injury rate was 4.2 deaths per 10,000 construction workers in North Dakota.
- South Dakota – The fatal workplace injury rate was 2.1 deaths per 10,000 construction workers in South Dakota.
Another way to look at the frequency of work-related fatalities in construction is to evaluate deaths using work hours, since construction workers tend to work longer hours in some states than others. By the labor hours metric, Minnesota had the safest construction labor market of the five states analyzed. A construction worker lost his or her life on-the-job every 17.5 million labor hours in Minnesota. Note that Figure 6 is based on the total number of hours worked by all blue-collar construction workers. That is, the state went 17.5 million work hours put in by all construction employees without suffering a construction worker death. In comparison, construction worker deaths occur much more frequently in Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the United States. In particular, a construction worker death occurs every 2.3 million labor hours in North Dakota.
Figure 7 once again presents data that accounts for incidence rates per total hours worked by all blue-collar construction workers. By this metric, Minnesota was the safest construction labor market of the three states with available data (data was not available for North Dakota or South Dakota). A construction worker reported a workplace injury or illness approximately every 105,000 labor hours in Minnesota.
Combined, an average of 56.2 construction workers suffered a workplace fatality every year in the five Midwestern states. This means that at least one construction worker dies at work every week in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, or South Dakota. Similarly, an average of 4,658 construction workers suffered an on-the-job injury or illness every year in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. This means that approximately 90 other construction workers get injured at work every week in the three states with available data.
There are high economic costs to worker fatalities:
- Minnesota’s 9.4 construction worker fatalities annually cost the state $49.7 million;
- Wisconsin’s 12.2 construction worker fatalities annually cost the state $68.1 million;
- Iowa’s 13.2 construction worker fatalities annually cost the state $73.0 million;
- North Dakota’s 17.2 construction worker fatalities annually cost the state $84.3 million;
- South Dakota’s 4.2 construction worker fatalities annually cost the state $20.6 million.
*Note that these estimates only include the cost of construction fatalities and do not include estimates on the cost of nonfatal injuries, because nonfatal injury data are unavailable for North Dakota and South Dakota.*
Within the 5-state area, blue-collar construction workers are generally safest in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both the construction fatality rate per 10,000 workers and the number of labor hours without a construction workplace death were best in Minnesota. Wisconsin has the second-least amount of fatalities per 10,000 workers, while Iowa has the second-least amount of workplace injuries or illnesses per 10,000 workers. South Dakota and North Dakota had the highest fatality rates out of the five states, with North Dakota experiencing a particularly high incidence of deaths at construction worksites.
While construction remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, steps can be taken to reduce the costs of construction-related fatalities and injuries. A “high road” approach to construction improves worker training, boosts worker productivity, and minimizes injury risks at minimal costs to taxpayers that are offset by these benefits. Four “high road” policy solutions that states have taken to ensure safe working conditions in construction are:
- Increasing resources to conduct OSHA inspections,
- Maintaining or introducing state prevailing wage laws,
- Introducing local responsible bidder ordinances, and
- Avoiding the attack on construction trades unions.
Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and states across the country should enact legislation that creates a “high road” construction industry in their area.
For the full report, please click here.
Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers @ Flickr