Construction seems to have been safer in 2009, but federal officials are still concerned about getting the truth from employers about injuries.

An indicator of construction jobsite safety showed improvement last year, as the number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses—and the rate per 100 workers—declined in 2009, the Labor Dept. has reported.

In its latest annual workplace safety report, released on Oct. 21, the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics said that construction injuries and illnesses on the job were down 22% last year, to 251,000.

At least part of the dip in workplace injuries and illnesses can be traced to the drop in construction activity, and thus the number of workers on jobsites.

The better safety yardstick, the industry's injury/illness rate, also went down in 2009, to 4.3 cases per 100 workers, from 4.7 in 2008.

More broadly, BLS says that the nonfatal injury rate for all private industry also moved downward last year, to 3.6 cases per 100 workers, from 3.9 in 2008. The overall number of workplace injuries/illnesses dropped by 400,000, to 3.3 million cases.

But the Labor Dept. concedes that its own data may not be complete, because, it says, some companies have not reported all injuries that occurred.

Labor Secretary Linda Solis said that the "reported decline" in the injury numbers is "encouraging" and noted that most companies understand the importance of accurate reporting of injuries.

But Solis added, "We are concerned about the widespread existence of programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and we will continue to issue citations and penalties to employers that intentionally under-report workplace injuries."

Construction Nonfatal Injury/Illness Rates
(per 100 workers)
Source: Dept of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics