The construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Construction workers face a wide range of hazards when they arrive on the job site each workday, including large equipment, heavy supplies, height hazards, and long hours. It is important that construction workers are well trained and highly skilled in order to limit on-the-job injuries and fatalities.
Over the past four decades, OSHA and its state partners have worked with labor unions, employers, and safety and health advocates to increase workplace safety. Many employers and contractors put their workers through training and safety programs to ensure workers are prepared for job sites. Safety and health programs encourage a proactive approach to finding and fixing job site hazards before they cause injury or illness. Today, workers are less likely to die on-the-job than they were 40 years ago due to workplace safety efforts.
However, there is still room for improvement. A new report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) finds that a total of 4,339 construction workers lost their lives at work from 2011 through 2015. This means that an average of 867.8 construction workers suffered a workplace fatality per year, or about 16 construction workers every week across the nation.
Of the 50 states, the fatality rate was lowest in New Hampshire, where there were 0.72 deaths per 10,000 workers in construction occupations. The fatality rate was highest in North Dakota, where there were 4.21 deaths per 10,000 workers in construction occupations. The national average fatality rate is 1.68 on-the job fatalities per 10,000 construction workers. In general, states with the highest fatality rates per 10,000 construction workers tend to be located in the American south.
Alternatively, comparing on-the-job fatalities to total labor hours worked – meaning the total number of hours worked by construction employees in each state throughout the year – Alaska, New Hampshire, and Maryland have the three safest construction labor markets out of the 50 states. North Dakota, New Mexico, and West Virginia had the most frequent on-the-job fatalities by this metric.
Overall, on-the-job fatalities are 13.8 percent to 26.0 percent higher in states that do not have effective prevailing wage laws. Because prevailing wage laws ensure that workers are paid the local-market rate, construction workers in prevailing wage states tend to be better trained, tend to have more workplace safety rules, and are more likely to consider the construction industry as a career instead of a seasonal job.
States with effective prevailing wage laws, such as Hawaii, Illinois, and Minnesota, all have high productivity per worker, high compensation, and high levels of unionization. Hawaii, Illinois, and Minnesota all have workers who produce over $86 in “value added” economic output per hour worked. On the other hand, states without effective prevailing wage laws, such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, have some of the lowest productivity, pay, and unionization in the nation.
There are high economic costs to on-the-job construction fatalities in all 50 states. Adjusted to today’s dollars, the average cost of one fatal occupational injury is $5.3 million across all private industry occupations. Nationally, the 867.8 average annual construction worker fatalities cost the United States nearly $5 billion in lost production, lost family income, pain and suffering costs, and reduced quality of life every year.
While construction remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, steps can be taken to reduce the costs of construction-related fatalities. States prevent construction fatalities by implementing “high road” solutions that ultimately make the construction industry safer. These include:
- Increasing resources to conduct OSHA inspections,
- Maintaining or introducing prevailing wage laws,
- Introducing local responsible bidder ordinances, and
- Avoiding the attack on construction unions.
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. The nearly $5 billion in lost economic activity due to on-the-job construction fatalities could be reduced if states enact legislation that creates a “high road” construction industry in their area.
For the full report, click here.