Understanding the “Fatal Four” Causes of Injury and Death on Construction Sites

Published by Adam Willfond

The global construction industry is projected to be worth $10.3 trillion US dollars by the year 2020, and worldwide, the demand for new construction continues to grow without showing any sign of slowing down its momentum. However, growing in tandem with increased productivity and demand for skilled construction labor are the instances of onsite injury.

We will take a look at what the industry refers to as the “fatal four” causes of workplace injury on construction sites, and discuss methods that are being used around the world to reduce and prevent worker injury.

1.  Falling Injuries

Of the top four injury types reported on construction sites in 2012, falling injuries accounted for 37 percent of reported fatality cases, according to the Occupation Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Bureau of Statistics. With professional training and certification required for construction workers, it can be difficult to imagine that falling deaths would account for over a third of all annual construction fatalities.

How do the falls happen? While building multiple-level dwellings, including single family homes to forty-floor sky scrapers in large cities, construction personnel are on every level. From wood- and metal-working to glass installation, concrete, and other functions, construction workers are frequently required to work at high elevations using equipment that makes it easy to lose balance and fall. Despite the fact that most construction sites provide tether cords and harnesses for high-risk job functions, injuries can still occur for workers who are tethered, particularly if they fall a high distance while wearing a safety harness. Broken necks and spinal cords are a source of instant fatalities, as are cases of head trauma.

Falling injuries can also occur when manipulating heavy loads, and while using cranes or other machinery. Building supplies are elevated to top floors on skids, which have to be handled by workers, and it is easy to lose personal balance when trying to handle a heavy skid of construction materials. Given the fact that elevated construction work can range from hundreds to thousands of feet above the ground, falling fatalities occur instantaneously, and are a tragically common occurrence on construction sites around the world.

2. Caught Between Objects

One of the most traumatic injuries that can occur to construction workers is being compressed between objects or machinery. This kind of injury can include being pressed between a wall and a skid of building materials, a piece of heavy equipment and a building structure, or even underneath falling sand, concrete, or construction debris.

According to 2012 data, approximately two percent of construction site fatalities were caused by workers being caught between objects, which can also include deaths resulting from demolitions, collapsing walls or structures, and more.

3. Struck by Objects

Imagine a bowling ball being dropped from the twentieth floor of an office building.  Would it hurt upon impact? Now imagine the same gravitational forces at work, except rather than a bowling ball, it is a piece of rubble, a brick, or a power tool. Construction professionals who are struck by falling objects account for an average of 10 percent of construction site deaths annually.

4. Electrocutions

There is a lot that can be done to protect workers from accidental electrocution, and workplace health and safety standards govern that electrical tools and wiring should only be installed and accessed by skilled and certified trade professionals. While a construction professional may exercise due diligence when it comes to how he or she manages equipment and safety, monitoring what other people do on the job site can prove difficult. Approximately nine percent of annual fatalities on construction sites occur when workers are accidentally electrocuted.

Water and wiring do not mix, and accidental electrocutions can happen when a wired tool is left near a puddle, or when too many tools are plugged into the same outlet, creating a wire short.  Other examples of accidental electrocution include faulty equipment and power tools, and inadequate footwear and protective clothing and devices.

Construction workers are in low supply and high demand, which means that many building projects face strict deadlines and schedules. While federal and municipal building codes and health and safety legislation make protective equipment, training, and certifications mandatory, the pressures and working schedule (overnight or midnight shifts) can also exacerbate attention and energy levels, making construction workers more susceptible to injury.

Risk by Job Type: Skilled Trades People at Highest Risk

According to the data provided by the Occupation Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the type of work that a skilled laborer does on the construction site has an impact on the rate of fatalities and injuries.

Among Specialty trade laborers – including individuals who lay foundations or work with concrete, rock, or lumber and metal structures – about 48 percent of construction workplace injuries and fatalities occur. Heavy and civil engineering professionals who are responsible for roads, bridges, sewers, and utility work accounted for 17 percent of construction site fatalities. Residential construction professionals (single-family home builders) accounted for 16 percent of annual construction site fatalities, while 12 percent of deaths were related to licensed heavy equipment operators. Only seven percent of construction fatalities were reported for workers who specialized in flooring, painting, and inside esthetic finishing services.

Which State Has the Highest Rate of Construction Fatalities?

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the accident rate for construction professionals.  In 2012, Texas was the national leader in construction labor fatalities, reporting 105 deaths that year. Texas is followed closely by Florida and California, who both reported 40-60 construction fatalities per annum.

The construction industry is vital to continued global economic development, and educating both workers and employees about safety standards and best practice is required to address the growing rate of industry for construction workers in the United States. With fewer people going into specialized trades and production, it becomes even more important to inform workers of their rights, and how to modify their work environment and survey it for safety issues.  

Virtual modeling and testing in virtual environments are being evaluated as a method of protecting construction workers from unnecessary exposure to risk on the worksite, and according to construction accident lawyers in Indiana, they hold promise for a future that reduces the risks for construction workers. In the meantime, it is advisable for all to stay vigitant of injuries on the construction site.

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    by Adam Willfond|International
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