“There is no doubt that the collaborative approach is working,” said Chuck Penn, the executive director of the association’s Shreveport, La., chapter. “While even one fatality is too many, it is hard to think of another government program providing so much improvement in so little time.”
The collaborative safety approach represented a significant shift in federal safety oversight when it was first introduced by the Clinton administration, Penn noted. The approach creates incentives for companies to find and fix safety problems before incidents occur while maintaining strong penalties for companies that let safety problems lag until someone is hurt.
Penn noted that in 1998 there were 1.7 fatalities for every million dollars invested in construction, while today that rate is 0.9 fatalities, a 47 percent drop. Relative to the size of the construction work force, the fatality rate dropped from 12.9 in 2000 to 9.6 fatalities per 100,000 construction workers in 2008, a 25 percent decline.
He added that while the value and size of the construction market grew significantly, the number of construction fatalities declined from 1,171 in 1998 to 969 in 2008, a 17 percent drop. In addition, the construction safety incidence rate fell 38 percent from 8.8 per 100 workers to just 5.4 per 100 workers while the rate injured construction workers missed work declined 42 percent from 3.3 per 100 workers to 1.9 between 1998 and 2007.
The association released the new safety data during the launch of a new federally supported safety program for Shreveport, La.-area construction projects. The new collaborative safety program commits OSHA and local contractors to provide additional training, data analysis and support needed to improve safety for the next 3 years.
Penn noted that the area was lucky to have the partnership since officials in Washington have recently begun to question the wisdom of the collaborative safety approach. But he noted that “replacing programs that work with ones that don’t isn’t change; it’s unwise and it’s unsafe.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released fatal occupational injuries data revealing that fatalities in the private construction sector in 2008 declined 20 percent from 2007.