No Excuses: Preventing Construction Site Accidents and Remembering the Dead
by Thomas Cecil
With Spring comes not only warmer weather, a change in time, and the start of baseball, but a return of construction projects as builders begin another season of home and commercial building.
In its 2017 Dodge Construction Outlook, Dodge Data & Analytics predicts U. S. construction starts for 2017 will grow five percent to $713 billion after gains of 11 percent and 1 percent in 2015 and 2016 respectively. “Single family housing will rise 12 percent in dollars, corresponding to a 9 percent increase in units to 795,000 (Dodge basis). Commercial building will increase six percent on top of the 12 percent gain estimated for 2016.”
According to the U. S. Census bureau, February, 2017 housing starts for privately-owned housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,288,000, a three percent rise over February, 2016 period. In California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the construction industry employed 783,000 in February, 2017.
This increase in construction work unfortunately comes with a steep price: construction-related injuries and death. According to the latest BLS data, there were 4,836 fatal workplace injuries, or 13 per day, in 2015. Private construction suffered the highest number with 937 fatalities.
“The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls [364 out of 937], followed by struck by object , electrocution , and caught-in/between .”
Preventing these four causes of death would save 602 construction workers’ lives annually.
Memorial Day for Construction & Other Workers
First recognized in the United States in 1989 to honor workers who died or suffered from exposure to hazards at work, Workers’ Memorial Day is observed annually on April 28. The motto for this occasion is “Remember the dead – Fight for the living.” And as noted on the CDC website, “Occupational injuries and illnesses have broad social and economic impacts on workers and their families, on employers, and on society as a whole.”
The economic burden of fatal worker injuries alone has been estimated to be $6 Billion. Workers’ Memorial Day is supported by trade unions, including the AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, California Labor Federation and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
To raise awareness to safety and reduce construction site injuries and deaths, both private and government sectors hold annual outreach safety programs. The 2017 Safety Week is scheduled for May 1-5, and is intended to encourage construction companies to host Safety Week “as a way to refocus and reenergize our commitment to reducing injuries on jobsites.”
On May 8, 2017, OSHA kicks off its 4th annual National Fall Prevention Stand-Down program to prevent fatal falls in construction. As noted, construction site deaths from falls are the leading cause of construction site fatalities, yet they are largely preventable. OSHA’s Fall Prevention website provides a wealth of information including for ladders, scaffolds, aerial lifts and roofs, to help employers and workers prevent worksite fall hazards.
OSHA emphasizes, “[e]mployers must train workers in hazard recognition and in the care and safe use ladders, scaffolds, fall protection systems, and other equipment they’ll be using on the job.”
A 2017 study in Accident Analysis and Prevention highlights the entirely preventable fall dangers construction workers face – 42 percent of construction fatalities were from falls with the highest incidence of fall fatalities among those age 25-44 years old. Unsurprisingly, roofers had the highest incidence of fatalities from falls at 78 percent and three out of four fatalities from falls were concentrated in the roofing, siding and sheet metal industries.
Highlighting the need for on the job safety training, workers on the job less than one week were at a higher risk of dying from a fall than longer term employees. Half of all deaths from falls in construction occurred with employers with 20 or fewer employees.
Despite OSHA requirements for guardrails and toeboards (29 CFR 1926.502) and personal fall arrest systems, (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(4)(i)), the study found that 70 percent of those killed from falls in residential construction, roofing, siding and sheet metal industries had no access to a personal fall arrest system, and guardrails were not installed on most of the fall incident sites studied.
Construction Injury Liability
A motto of the 2017 National Safety Stand-Down campaign is “Safety Pays -Falls Cost”. Failure to provide fall protection which leads to injury or death is inexcusable. Whether liability is imposed through workers compensation law or the general law of negligence, an injured person is entitled to be made whole through just monetary compensation, including recovery of medical expenses, past and future earnings, and under negligence law, the human damages of pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and dignity.
Thomas Cecil is a Shareholder in our Personal Injury Practice Group.