construction safety

The $762 Million Economic Burden of Construction Injuries, Deaths in Washington State

Between 2008 and 2010, injuries and deaths in the construction industry cost Washington state $762 million – a “largely avoidable” economic burden that could be improved if contracts are awarded only to companies with strong safety records, according to a new Public Citizen report.

“At a time in which the economy is struggling, the last thing Washington needs is a largely avoidable $762 million burden,” Public Citizen stated in “The Price of Inaction: A Comprehensive Look at the Costs of Injuries and Fatalities in Washington’s Construction Industry.” But that economic burden is exactly what the state faced from construction injuries and fatalities from 2008-2010.

The new report, part in a series of state reports, quantifies the estimated costs of deaths and injuries in Washington state’s construction industry. From 2008 to 2010, Washington recorded 34,700 construction industry injuries and illnesses, of which 16,600 required days away from work or job transfer. Additionally, 39 construction-related fatalities were reported in these years.

Drawing on a 2004 analysis on the cost of occupational injuries in combination with newer data, Public Citizen determined that such incidents cost the state’s economy $762 million during the 3-year period.

“The economic picture we came up with is quite staggering,” said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “We now know that construction accidents impose huge economic costs in addition to tremendous pain for individual victims.”

A solution proposed in the report is to award public construction contracts only to companies that have strong safety records.

The report notes that Washington already screens construction companies to ensure that they meet standards on past performance, apprenticeship utilization and legal proceedings. But safety is excluded from the state’s prequalification system. The system should be expanded to require construction firms to demonstrate that they provide safety training to workers and site supervisors, and that they do not have serious safety violations.

“Implementing a prequalification process for public construction projects would not address all of the industry’s safety problems,” Wrightson said. “However, such a positive step could yield significant gains to the economy for minimal costs.”

“Workers, industry and government should not have to wait any longer for efforts to be made to reduce fatalities and injuries in the construction industry and the economic burdens they create,” the report stated.

The report can be viewed at http://www.citizen.org/documents/price-of-inaction-washington-construction-worker-safety-report.pdf.

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