Total nonfatal construction workplace injuries and illnesses declined 13% in 2020 from the year-earlier level, and the industry’s injury-illness rate also continued downward, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

But the BLS's annual report on occupational injuries and illnesses, released Nov. 3, also shows that the downturn came in the injuries category.

Illnesses, on the other hand, climbed and nonfatal construction respiratory illnesses spiked, in part reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For construction overall, BLS said the industry’s number of recordable nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the industry decreased 13% in  2020, to a total of 174,100. That is the lowest total since at least 2014.

The 2020 injury-illness rate per 100 full-time workers—a key measure of safety trends—also was down in 2020, to 2.5 per 100 full-time workers, from 2.8 in 2019. That continues a steady annual decline in the rate in recent years.

Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives, said in an email to ENR, “Ultimately, the decline in the injury rate is an affirmation that the industry’s continued focus on improving worker health and safety, supported by AGC and other groups, is working.”

Turmail says, “While we are still too far away from zero injuries and fatalities, it is encouraging to see this kind of safety progress.”

The decrease in injury-illness cases could partly reflect the drop in overall construction employment due to the pandemic, says Chris Trahan Cain, executive director of CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training. The center was created by North America's Building Trades Unions.

Cain said in comments emailed to ENR: “While we believe overall construction safety and health continues to improve, I don’t think the injury reduction in 2020 suggests a significant improvement.”

She points out that fatal falls in construction climbed in 2019 and adds, “To improve construction safety and health, we still have a long way to go.”

Injuries accounted for 165,300, or 95%, of construction’s 174,100 nonfatal total.

Construction illnesses were up 67% in 2020, to 8,700. Construction respiratory illnesses totaled 5,300, a more than eightfold increase from 600 in 2019.

Story corrected on Nov. 8, 2021: Increase in construction respiratory illnesses was more than eightfold in 2020, not 61%.