Construction Site Dangers

Startling statistics and what you need to know if you’ve been hurt on the job

President Biden’s one trillion-dollar infrastructure bill recently passed into law with bipartisan support. The plan will invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s roadways, rail lines, bridges, water systems, and power grid, creating construction, transportation, and energy jobs. Skilled workers are in demand. But especially with an aging workforce, the acceleration in these large-scale projects carries certain implicit risks for employees.

According to the CPRW (Center for Construction Research and Training) February 2021 Data Bulletin, “Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States.”

Here are some sobering statistics:

  • Based on figures from 2019, in the United States, every 99 minutes, someone dies from a work-related injury.
  • 1 in 5 work-related casualties is due to construction accidents and illnesses.
  • Though the fatality rate (per 100,000 employees) in construction is lower than in other industries such as farming, fishing/hunting, forestry, and mining.

New data from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) shows more actual deaths in construction work than in any other industry.

  • On average, three construction workers die each day from job-related causes.
  • Many experts believe job-related fatal injuries are underreported.

Further, such accidents are on the rise. A 2019 CPRW report found that deaths from on-site accidents had reached their highest point in at least nine years: close to 1,100 fatalities in 2019, a 41% increase from 2011, and up 5.3% over the previous year alone.

OSHA, the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has identified the “Construction Focus Four”—also known as the Fatal Four—the leading threats to workers in the industry:

  • Falls (roofs, ladders, scaffolding, holes, unsupported sides)
  • Struck-by (masonry, vehicles, etc.)
  • Electrocution
  • Caught-in/between (“a person being squeezed, caught, crushed, pinched, or compressed between two or more objects, or between parts of an object,” which may result from excavation cave-ins, machinery, swinging cranes, and other construction equipment or fixed objects.)

In 2019, these four categories of accidents accounted for 709 of the more than 1000 construction site-related deaths. That’s more than 60% of the fatalities in the industry in that year. But of course, there are other hazards, including fires, explosions, and exposure to harmful substances or environments.

Alarmingly, the data also reveals disproportionate casualties among specific demographics, including Hispanic workers, who, between 2011 and 2019, saw a 55% increase in construction employment but an 89.8% rise in fatal injuries. Older workers were also at increased risk. Employees 65 and over had the highest incidence of construction work-related death, more than double the rate of the next younger age group, 45-64.

But fatalities are only part of the story.

The Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, report that in 2019 construction industry employees suffered over 200,000 nonfatal injuries.

These can include scarring, disfigurement, back/neck/spinal cord damage, blindness or deafness, traumatic brain injury, amputated limbs, burns, fractures, paralysis, and more.

Though recent data shows construction accidents down slightly for 2020 and 2021, these numbers are likely skewed by the layoffs, furloughs, and slowed projects due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Even so, in 2020, 1.7% of all construction workers suffered injuries serious enough that they had to miss work.

More disheartening still, many devastating construction accidents are preventable.

The severe accidents, injuries, illnesses, and fatalities from on-site disasters not only underscore the significant dangers implicitly faced by workers in this field, but they can also signal unsafe working conditions.

Despite strict standards (28 states have regulations in place that go beyond federal requirements), and the severe repercussions companies face for failure to comply, OSHA reports their most frequently cited violations in construction and general industry are related to:

  • Fall Protection & Fall Protection Training Requirements
  • Hazard Communication Standards
  • Respiratory Protection
  • Scaffolding
  • Ladders
  • Control of Hazardous Energy
  • Powered Industrial Trucks
  • Eye and Face Protection
  • Machinery and Machine Guarding

In California, employers are required to hold workers’ compensation insurance. When an employee is injured, workers’ compensation typically takes care of claims efficiently, covering medical bills and lost wages.

However, it’s essential to understand that once an injured party collects workers’ compensation, they are prevented from suing the employer for negligence.

However, there may be times when a third party is responsible for the injury (for example, a manufacturing defect in the machinery or unsafe premises). In such a case, it may be possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against that party, even after claiming workers’ compensation.

If you are injured on a construction job:

  • First, take care of your health! See your doctor immediately.
  • File an accident report with your employer. You have just 30 days to make a workers’ compensation claim after your accident or the discovery of your injury.
  • Thoroughly document everything that happened: take pictures, make notes, talk to anyone who witnessed the accident.
  • Speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

The experienced Orange County construction accident attorneys at Aitken*Aitken*Cohn understand the complexities of construction law, premises law, and product liability law. We will work with you to understand the details of your case and determine what claims you may be eligible to file given the circumstances of your accident. As lead counsel, AAC’s litigation team recently secured a $35.8 million settlement for injured construction workers. The lawsuit stems from an overpass collapse during a bridge construction operation on SR 91 in Corona that involved lowering a 900-plus ton bridge deck.