Construction Site Risks are On the Rise

Chriss Swaney

Pittsburgh, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Most construction workers and contractors agree that construction jobs can be dangerous. Statistics reveal a 5 percent increase in construction fatalities nationwide from 2015 to 2016, following a smaller increase of 1 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the National Safety Council.

The death rate of 3.1 per 100,000 workers was also up 3 percent from 2015. And work-related medically consulted injuries totaled $4.5 million in 2016, and total work injury costs were estimated at $151.1 billion, the latest figures available. Costs include wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor vehicle property damage and employer costs.

Older construction workers aged 55 to 64 are experiencing higher fatality numbers: from 170 deaths in 2015 to 218 deaths in 2016, according to Ken Kolosh, statistics manager at the National Safety Council.

Worker safety can also be impacted by the transportation of heavy construction equipment. Kolosh reports an increase in deaths in the transport of construction equipment and tools from 63 in 2015 to 278 deaths in 2016.

“In good economic times we see more construction and traffic deaths,” Kolosh said. In 2011, there were 781 construction-related deaths compared with 1,034 in 2016.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 63.7 percent of construction worksite injuries come from falls, workers being struck by an object, electrocution or being crushed or caught in machinery and onsite equipment.

Late last year, Michael Shiry, an employee of Emery Tree Service, was killed after he fell from a bucket lift cutting trees in downtown Pittsburgh. Shiry was cutting trees with a chainsaw 60 feet high when the arm of the bucket lift suddenly malfunctioned. He was trapped inside, then thrown from the bucket by the force of the bucket arm collapse.

A construction worker was crushed to death earlier this summer while working at a site in Columbia, SC. Diane Smith was entrapped between the ceiling and the railing of the scissor lift.

In June of this year, 20-year-old construction worker Kyle Hancock died while working in a trench on a sewer line in Baltimore’s Clifton Park neighborhood. The trench collapsed around him. Shortly after the accident this summer, another worker, Micheal Zeller of Essex, died after falling down an elevator shaft at a building being remodeled for McCormick & Co’s planned headquarters in Hunt Valley. Another worker was fatally injured after being pinned by a tree branch he was trimming this summer in Annapolis, MD.

Tom Messenger of Messenger Contracting in Pittsburgh said professionals must be careful when working on ladders. He also said that construction site theft of materials like copper, lumber and drywall is an ongoing problem.

According to the National Equipment Register, construction job site theft and vandalism costs up to $1 billion each year, a total that has jumped more than 10 percent in the past 20 years. Some of the most popular work items stolen from construction sites includes power tools, appliances, furnishings and scrap metals.

There is also a risk factor for workers from echo-terrorists who haunt a cache of sites nationwide. Over several years, anti-pipeline activists set fires and caused more than $2 million in damages near Standing Rock in ND.

Elsewhere, two women from a social justice charity used oxyacetylene-cutting torches to attack another stretch of the pipeline in Iowa’s Mahaska County. In another incident, damages to pipeline construction equipment in Iowa reached $2 million.

With the rising fees paid by recyclers for copper, the theft of copper wiring and pipe is especially prevalent. More than 20 states have passed legislation regulating its sale to recycling centers.