Fatal workplace injuries in construction declined 5% in 2007, and the industry’s fatality rate also continued downward. For the fifth-straight year however, construction had more on-the-job deaths than any other industry, and officials are seeking to reduce the toll.

Construction Deaths Down, But Toll Still High

Moreover, concern has intensified this year about crane safety after four U.S. crane accidents in which 15 workers and bystanders were killed. A long-pending proposed crane rule is expected to be issued soon by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Last year, construction recorded 1,178 workplace deaths, down 5% from 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Aug. 20. Construction’s fatal-accident rate decreased to 10.3 per 100,000 workers, from 10.9 in 2006, the rate’s fourth-consecutive annual decline. But construction still has the largest number of workplace fatalities of any industry and its fatality rate remains one of the highest.

In construction subsectors, results were mixed. Deaths during construction of buildings were up 11% in 2007, with most of that increase in nonresidential construction. Specialty trade contractors, the largest construction subsector, had a 6% decline in fatalities.

The Associated General Contractors “is pleased that the fatalities and the [fatal] injuries rate have gone down in 2007,” says Michele Myers, AGC director of safety and health services. But she adds, “We still consider safety our key priority,” and says training and education must continue.

The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept. also sees a need for improvement. “People working in and for the construction industry are relieved to see fewer deaths, but that’s tempered by the fact that 2006 had the highest number of construction fatalities [1,239] since BLS began keeping numbers in 1992,” says Sue Dong, data center director for the building trades’ CPWR–The Center for Construction Research and Training. “There is clearly more work to be done to reduce construction fatalities. There are far too many.”

Of 2007’s construction fatalities, 38% resulted from falls. “We want to see those numbers go down,” says Janie Gittleman, the BCTD center’s associate director of safety and health research. The center tested a ladder-safety DVD last year and found positive results among workers who viewed it.