The number of nonfatal construction workplace injuries and illnesses declined in 2021 and the industry’s injury/illness rate was unchanged from the previous year's level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The latest annual BLS occupational injuries/illnesses report, released on Nov. 9, shows that construction’s “recordable cases” of nonfatal injuries and illnesses last year were down by 4,900, or 2.8%, from the 2020 level, to 169,200.

 The 2019 total was 200,100, which was up slightly from the previous year.

The number of nonfatal injury/illness cases that involved days away from work—a measure of serious cases—also fell in 2021, to 72,800 from 74,500 in 2020, BLS reported. The 2019 number was 79,700.

Construction’s 2021 nonfatal injury/illness rate—a better indicator than numbers of cases of long-term trends—was 2.5 per 100 full-time workers, the same rate as in 2020. 

The industry's rate for nonfatal cases that led to days away from work also was unchanged, at 1.1 per 100 workers.

Rates are a key indicator of safety trends because they adjust for changes in the annual volume of construction work.

Of construction's total 2021 cases, injuries accounted for 162,500, or about 93%.

Of the industry's 6,700 illness cases last year, 3.200 were respiratory conditions. COVID-19 is categorized as a respiratory illness in these statistics, BLS noted. 

ABC: 'Encouraging Data'

"All told, this is encouraging data for the construction industry, " says Greg Sizemore, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development. 

Sizemore said in comments emailed to ENR, "While every incident is unacceptable, this demonstrates that the industry is putting significant effort and focus into maintaining healthy and safe workplaces."

He adds, "Though the report shows only incremental improvements in nonfatal injuries, the trend clearly indicates ongoing efforts to eliminate incidents and accidents by the construction industry, its contractors and their employees."

Building Trades' Comments

Chris Trahan Cain, executive director of CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, says, "We expect to see variations in the number of injuries and illnesses, based on how the data is collected,  and temporal trends should be interpreted with caution."

Trahan Cain, who also is North America's Building Trades Unions' safety and health director, said in an email that the decline in cases from 2020 to 2021 "is largely due to a reduction in the number of respiratory conditions during the period, which is expected with COVID-19."

BLS data show that the number of construction respiratory illness cases decreased by 2,100 from 2020 to 2021.That number represents about 43% of construction's year-over-year reduction in cases.

Trahan Cain adds that a main benefit of the Labor Dept.'s Survey of Occupational Illnesses and Injuries data is that its "detailed case and demographic data, now published every two years "is used widely in the industry to better understand these injury and illness trends."

All-Industry Cases Down Slightly

For all private industries, BLS said the number of nonfatal illnesses and injuries on the job in 2021 edged down 1.8%, to about 2.6 million. The illness/injury rate was 2.7 per 100 full-time workers, the same as in 2020.

BLS noted that the downturn in the number of overall nonfatal cases was due to a 32.9% falloff in illness cases.

The decline in illness cases, in turn, was caused mainly by a 37.1% drop in respiratory illness cases. 

The report is based on injury and illness case information that employers transmitted to BLS.