First, a personal disclosure: Construction accidents are a big part of how I make a living. I have been accused of profiting from other's misery. But after spending 26 years in the industry and the past 15 as a crisis-management consultant, I continue to be appalled by the number of people killed in construction.
And I am horrified by the attitude that "construction is a dangerous business and accidents will happen." I've often wondered when people in the industry would stand up and say, "I'm mad as hell and won't take it anymore!" I, for one, am pleading with the construction industry to do whatever it takes to improve its dismal record, to prevent additional needless deaths.
RESPONSIBILITY. At this point some of you may be shrugging your shoulders, thinking that you can't do anything to improve the situation. You may think it is the ma-and-pa operations or subcontractors or a lax attitude of the work force that drives the high fatality rate, not the large general contractors. That thinking begs the question: "Who hires all of the above?" It is my opinion that no one has the right to lay blame and justify. Everyone in the construction industry must take some responsibility for demanding zero fatalities.
Beyond the ethical reasons, it makes good business sense for everyone in the industry to help solve this problem. Our high fatality and injury rate is, undoubtedly, a major reason for our negative public image, and a large part of why we have difficulty attracting and retaining a quality work force. Year after year, construction records the most work place deaths of any industry. Last year was no exception.
|According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction was responsible for 1,154 deaths in 2000. This figure represented nearly one-fifth of all workplace fatalities in the country last year, despite the fact that construction employed only 7% of the country's work force. To the industry's credit, this was a 3% decrease from the previous year's fatality rate, even with an increased number of employees. Still, the industry was responsible for delivering fatality notifications an average of 23 times per week. And let's not forget about the injury and illness notifications, which are nearly as dismal. Clearly, there is room for improvement.|
|(Illustration by Guy Lawrence for ENR)|
To be fair, construction is not the country's most dangerous occupation, based on a per 100,000 worker basis. Last year, it was the mining-and-quarrying industry, with agriculture close behind. But mining and quarrying was responsible for 156 fatalities and agriculture for 720, far fewer than the construction industry's 1,154 fatalities.
The sheer magnitude of the fatality statistics is overwhelming. Knowing the risks involved, would you encourage your child to take a construction job? It frightens me that we are sending our employees into schools to tell kids that great career opportunities await them in the industry. I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with industry programs for grade school and junior high school kids such as the Build Up! and On Site! lessons created by Associated General Contractors of America. But I am calling on the industry to invest the same effort in creating and maintaining an industry-wide program to address safety issues.
Imagine such a program: For every hour that a constructor spends in a classroom promoting the industry to children, another constructor with a proven safety record dedicates as much time to sharing best safety practices with less-safe construction companies. Ideally, this education would be offered at association meetings where companies come together. Safety, unlike construction, is not a competitive arena; the sharing of successful ideas should be encouraged.
I know that there are many contractors who are committed to keeping workers safe. I applaud them and their dedication to reducing risks and saving lives. But we should not be able to single out companies for their commitment to safety. All companies should have the same commitment. The president of every construction firm should have the safety expectations of Craig R. Barrett, president and CEO of Intel Corp., who says, "The [safety] program begins with me. I am notified of any lost workday within the companywhether it is a facility here in the U.S. or a foreign operation. I am told what went wrong, why it went wrong and what will be done to prevent the incident from happening again."
COLLABORATION. Before homeland security became today's overriding issue, workplace safety was just beginning to show up on the radar screen of our nation's business and labor leaders. Last March at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the National Safety Council with DuPont and others sponsored the first-ever Workplace Safety Summit. Speakers stressed the need for collaboration.
Particularly in the construction industry, we must collaborate to ensure that our workers go home at the end of each day alive and healthy. Yes, we have quite a challenge. But you only have to look at images of construction workers at the World Trade Center site and the Pentagon, working around the clock alongside firefighters and other emergency personnel, to know that our industry is ready to meet almost any challenge.fter the devastation of Sept. 11, I know this might be a difficult time to ask people to consider additional bad news. But this might be a good time for our industry to unite in pursuit of a common goal: Make construction a safer industry. For the past nine years, we have averaged more than 1,000 fatalities per year.