Construction Fall Fatality Rates Drop Despite Overall Number Increase

The construction industry, which includes glaziers, accounted for more than half of the total occupational fatalities due to falling to a lower level in 2017, with 367 fatalities. This is according to a new report titled, “Trends of Fall Injuries and Prevention in the Construction Industry” from CPWR, the research and training arm of North America’s Building Trades Unions.

Fall fatalities have increased 45% from 2011 to 2017, with an increase each year. However, overall construction employment has also increased during that period. Overall fatalities decreased 2% from 2016 to 2017.

Falls to a lower level are the leading cause of construction fatalities, making up 94% of all fatal falls in 2017. All types of falls, slips and trips grew from 2011 to 2017.

Falls from roofs, ladders and scaffolds and staging accounted for nearly three-quarters of fatalities to a lower level between 2015 and 2017, with falls from scaffolding and staging representing approximately 15% of fatal falls to a lower level.

Fatal Falls Among Construction Subgroups

Small employers with fewer than 20 employees accounted for nearly 75% of total fatal falls during the 2015 to 2017 period, despite comprising only 39% of construction payroll employment. This is consistent with the CPWR’s recent findings that small companies account for a larger share of overall construction fatalities.

Establishments employing between 50 and 99 employees make up 14% of construction payroll employment but only 6% of fatal falls.

The number of fatal falls by construction subsector between 2011 to 2017 showed that residential building construction (365 fatalities) fell behind only roofing contractors (512 fatalities) in fatal falls during that period. Nonresidential building construction was fourth, with 157 fatalities.

Ironworkers accounted for 29 fall fatalities between 2015 and 2017. However, the occupation’s rate of falls was 22.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, second to roofers among all construction occupations.

The rate of falls among construction laborers decreased by 25% from 5.6 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs in 2011 to 4.2 per 100,000 FTEs in 2017.

Hispanic construction workers had higher rates of fatal falls than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts between 2011 and 2017. That fatality rate for Hispanic construction workers increased from 4.4 to 4.5 per 100,000 FTEs from 2016 to 2017 while the rate fell for white, non-Hispanic workers during that same period. Foreign-born construction workers also had an elevated risk of fatal falls.

Rate of Fatal Falls to a Lower Level in Construction from 2015-2017

All Workers                                         3.5 per 100,000 FTEs

Black, Non-Hispanic Workers            2.7 per 100,000 FTEs

White, Non-Hispanic Workers            3.1 per 100,000 FTEs

Hispanic Workers                                4.6 per 100,000 FTEs

Foreign-Born Workers                        5.1 per 100,000 FTEs

Source: CPWR Second Quarter 2019 Data Report

Workers aged 65 years and older are also at increased risk of fall fatalities. While that age group made up 13.3% of fatalities from 2015 to 2017, the rate of fall fatalities was 13.1 per 100,000 FTEs, twice the rate among workers aged 55-64 years (5.4 per 100,000 FTEs) and more than six times the rate among workers under age 25 (2 per 100,000 FTEs).

Nonfatal Fall Injuries

According to the report, the number of nonfatal fall injuries resulting in days away from work in construction dropped to its lowest level during the recession (18,100 injuries in 2010), then steadily increased to 24,200 injuries in 2017. The injury rate showed an overall downward trend, decreasing from 39.5 per 10,000 FTEs in 2011 to 37.8 per 10,000 FTEs in 2017. Despite this rate reduction, the construction industry was still third out of all industry sectors for nonfatal fall injuries in 2017.

While construction laborers had the highest number of nonfatal fall injuries in 2017, helpers had the highest rate with 153.2 per 10,000 FTEs. Ironworkers were third with 79.6 per 10,000 FTEs.

The National Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction

The number of fall fatalities has increased as construction employment recovered after the economic recession. Despite this increase, the rate of fatal falls has been stable and decreased slightly in 2017. According to the CPWR report, the National Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction has impacted the rate as more organizations and companies become involved in the campaign.

According to the report, contractors and associations have reached 222,300 individuals, unions have reached 208,500 individuals, manufacturers have reached 112,000 individuals and safety and insurance agencies have reached 33,500 individuals.

CPWR, in collaboration with the Center on Network Science at the University of Colorado and Visible Network Labs, conducted a social network analysis of the campaign’s impacts. Of the total respondents, 75% noticed an increase in fall prevention activities at their organization or in the industry.

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