Construction workplace fatalities declined modestly in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported. But safety and health officials with contractor groups and organized labor say that even with the improvements, the instances of some types of fatal construction accidents have risen and more needs to be done to reduce deaths on the job.
The bureau’s latest annual report on fatal occupational injuries, released on Dec. 16, includes a couple of listings, both of which show similar trends.
According to one BLS metric, construction fatalities decreased to 1,015 in 2021 from 1,034 in the prior year, a dip of 1.8%%. The other listing shows construction workplace deaths declining to 986 last year, from 1,008 in 2020, a downturn of 2.2%.
An analysis of the BLS report by North America's Building Trades Unions found that the industry's 2021 fatality rate declined to 9.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, from 10.0 in the prior year.
Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives, told ENR in an email, “There is a temptation to see a decline in the fatality numbers as something to celebrate. It isn’t.”
Turmail says, “There is nothing acceptable about over 1,000 people losing their lives in our industry.”
He adds, "That is why we and our members have no intention of resting as we work to make our industry a safer and healthier place to work."
Joe Xavier, Associated Builders and Contractors senior director of health and safety, said via email, "One life lost is tragic and one too many.” Xavier adds, “Unfortunately, the number of fatalities and the rate are essentially unchanged over the last five years.”
He says, “The report shows there’s so much more to be done. We must look beyond traditional, observable safety behavior. Safety must be a core value.”
Chris Trahan Cain, NABTU safety and health director, wrote in an email, “Construction numbers are trending in the right direction overall.”
BLS said that the overall number of occupational deaths climbed 8.9% in 2021, to 5,190. The bureau also reported that the fatal work injury rate was up to 3.6 per 100,000 FTE workers, from 3.4 the year before.
Looking at types of fatal accidents, Trahan Cain says that deaths caused by workers being struck by an object or piece of equipment decreased to 150 in 2021, from 168 the year before.
But trends were heading in the opposite direction in some other categories.
She says deaths by falls increased to 379, from 353, and fatal electrocutions were up to 75 in 2021, compared with 54 in 2020.
Trahan Cain says that as the number of construction workers returns to its pre-pandemic levels and the volume of work rises due to the infusion of federal infrastructure spending, “The whole industry must work together to get these numbers and rates further lowered.”
The picture for all U.S. industries was more worrisome, as the number of fatal workplace injuries climbed 8.9%, to 5,190 and the fatality rate edged up to 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, from 3.4, year over year.
Doug Parker, the Labor Dept.'s assistant secretary in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a statement that the BLS report "serves as a call to action for OSHA, employers and other stakeholders to redouble our collective efforts to make our nation's workplaces safer."