The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that construction workers have relatively high rates of work related injuries and death in comparison with other U.S. industry sectors. Based on 2006 data, construction workers experience the highest rates of fatalities, and though they comprise about 7% of the American workforce, they experience 21% of fatal injuries nationwide. In 2008, the BLS reports that the number of fatalities in private sector construction declined 20 percent, from 1204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases in 2008.
Fatalities involving workers in the construction of buildings were down 21 percent form 2007. The leading causes of construction fatalities include falls to a lower level, electrocutions, struck-by events, and caught-in or crushed-by events. NIOSH reports that these three causes represent about 65% of total injuries and 43% of nonfatal injuries with days away from work. In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the rates of non-fatal injuries requiring days away from work in construction to be 2.4 per 100 full-time workers — the second highest rate among all U.S. industry sectors, after Transportation and Warehousing with a rate of 2.9 per 100 full-time workers.
The construction industry is composed of a complex mix of different trades and activities. Much of the work is contracted out and each worker is typically present at the worksite for short durations and only a portion of the length of the project. This unique organization of construction makes the management of its occupational health and safety more challenging than other industries. The temporary nature of the work engenders a free, independent spirit in construction site personnel and has let to a disregard for authority and regulations.
Construction Hazards — Leading Causes of Fatalities
· Falls: Construction workers are a high risk population for falls. BLS reports that in 2001, falls to a lower level accounted for the greatest number of fatal occupational injuries among construction workers (410 fatalities or 4.3 per 100,000 full-time workers). In 2003, the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) inspected 707 fatal construction incidents involving 730 fatalities. Of these, falls from/through roofs accounted for 76 events (10.7 percent), and falls from/with structures for 74 events (10.5 percent).
· Electrocutions: NIOSH reports that during the ten year period from 1992-2002, the overall total of deaths associated with contact with electricity was nearly 3,400 with 47% of these occurring in the construction industry. About 1 in 8 construction industry deaths involved electricity versus 1 in 20 for all industry. The risk is not exclusive to electricians, and is important for many construction trades such as roofers, painters, laborers, operating engineers, and carpenters.
· Struck by Object: In 2001, BLS estimated the fatality rate of struck-by events in construction to be 1.2 per 100,000 workers.
Other Construction Hazards
· Animals: Bites from animals can transmit disease, including rabies.
· Insects: Insects bites can result in localized itch, allergic reactions, and transmission of disease.
· Lyme Disease is transmitted from a bite from an infected tick. It can result in a chronic disease characterized by flu-like symptoms. The bite typically results in a bulls-eye appearing rash at the site of the bite from 3-30 days after the bite.
· Molds: Can cause a irritation of the upper airways (nose/throat), and in some people can affect the lungs and cause difficulty breathing.
· Silica: Breathing-in silica dust can increase the workers risk of developing lung diseases and cancer.
· Dust: Various types of dust can cause respiratory symptoms, including cough, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing.
· Asbestos: Long term respiratory exposure is known to cause lung disease, and increase the risk of lung cancer.
· Carbon monoxide: Build-up of carbon monoxide can result in asphyxiation, and is a common cause of death in the construction industry.
· Welding fumes and gases: Inhaling welding fumes and gases are known to cause lung disease, and can result in disease from absorption of various types of toxic metals.
· Wood dusts: If inhaled, the dust formed from sanding and cutting wood is known to cause lung disease and cancer.
· Metals: Inhalation and absorption of various kinds of metals are known to cause serious disease in humans. The health effects of lead have been extensively studies, and are known to be found in some paints, and construction materials. Exposure is often encountered in older buildings.
· Man-made mineral fibers: Inhalation of man-made mineral fibers are known to cause lung diseases.
· Coal tar
· Epoxy resins
· Cleaning products contain many chemicals that are irritants to the skin, eyes, nose, and lungs. Some chemicals are also known to cause cancer if the worker is exposed to sufficient quantities.
· Solvents: Various trades within the construction industry are associated with high levels of exposure to solvents, which can be immediately threatening to life, or cause chronic diseases.
· Cold / Heat: Construction workers are often required to work outdoors in extreme climates. They are often exposed to high winds, and confined spaces. The large variety of work locations makes it difficult for construction workers to prepare for all exposures. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat or cold can result in the life threatening conditions of hyper/hypothermia.
· Hand tools: A large variety of hand tools are used in construction. Injury from hand tools can result from mechanical trauma as well as electrical burn and shock.
· Ergonomic: Construction work often involves physically demanding work, and workers are exposed to forceful exertions, static muscle contractions, and non-neutral postures.
· Noise: The construction industries reliance hand tools, portable energy sources, and heavy machinery results in significant exposures to noise levels in excess of that which is known to cause hearing loss. Without adequate protection, prolonged exposure will result in a characteristic premature loss of hearing.
· Sun: Prolonged or intense exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight is a known cause of skin cancer, including one of the most deadly cancers, melanoma.