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US Construction Safety in 2021: Top 10 Accident Causes According to OSHA

OSHA is the federal agency that enforces safety and health in US workplaces, and this includes construction safety. OSHA is part of the US Department of Labor, and each year they publish statistics about workplace injuries and fatalities, along with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (also part of the Department). Although OSHA is a US-based agency, their standards are used internationally.

OSHA only has 1,850 compliance officers to oversee a workforce of 130 million Americans in eight million sites, and this causes some delay in their publications. As of March 11, OSHA has reported 391 workplace fatalities for 2020. Employers have eight hours to report a workplace fatality, but OSHA requires up to six months to complete an investigation.

US Accident Rates and Workplace Fatalities: Latest Data

Currently, the latest year with complete data on workplace accidents is 2019, and this information is available from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consider there are over 70,000 American workers for each OSHA officer, and this limits the speed at which data is gathered and processed:

  • There were 2,814,000 nonfatal injuries and occupational illnesses in 2019.
  • 888,200 cases involved at least one day away from work for recovery.
  • 295,180 of the reported injuries were strains, sprains and tears.
  • 244,000 of the reported injuries were falls, slips and trips.
  • There were 5,333 work-related fatalities

The fatal injury rate increased by 2% with respect to the previous year (2018), with 5,250 cases reported. On average, the US has around 15 workplace fatalities per day, and more than 100 per week. Construction is one of the most dangerous industries, with 1,061 reported fatalities (20%). Construction safety is a major opportunity area for contractors: of every five American workers who lose their life on the job, one works in their industry.

In spite of these grim statistics, US accident rates have decreased sharply since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed in 1970. The rate of nonfatal injuries and occupational illnesses was 11% back in 1973, and it has now dropped to 2.8%. The rate of 15 worker deaths per day is still alarming, but it was 38 workers per day back in 1970 – more than two times higher.

The 10 Most Frequent OSHA Standard Violations

Most OSHA standard violations are related to the 10 following areas, according to the accumulated reports for the latest year available (2019):

  • Fall protection
  • Hazard communication
  • Scaffolding
  • Control of hazardous energy with lockout and tagout
  • Respiratory protection
  • Ladders
  • Powered industrial trucks
  • Fall protection
  • Machinery and eye guarding
  • Eye and face protection

There are now many software solutions that can help companies improve safety management. Also, virtual courses are now accepted by OSHA as a way to meet their training requirements.

Construction Safety: Facts and Figures

The US construction industry had 7.34 million employees as of February 2021. While this is only 6% of the American workforce, 20% of occupational fatalities happen in construction. These can be attributed to many causes, but OSHA warns about the “fatal four”: falls, being struck by equipment, being caught between objects, and electrocution.

Of the 888,200 reported injuries with days away from work, 79,660 happened in construction. 15,830 workers were struck by heavy equipment or objects (20%); and 25,460 were injured in falls, slips and trips (32%). This is consistent with OSHA violation reports, where fall protection is the most frequently cited area. OSHA penalties can be very high, and they can be applied even when a standard violation has not caused an accident yet:

  • Up to $13,653 per violation.
  • Up to $13,653 per day beyond the abatement deadline.
  • Up to $136,532 for reincidence or willful violation.

Investing in construction safety is a part of business ethics for contractors. However, safety also provides a measurable return on investment: according to a survey by the US National Safety Council, each dollar invested in safety measures returns $2 in avoided costs.

Source US Bureau of Labor Statistics OSHA


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