NOIRS: OSHA Taking Steps to Improve Construction Fatality Inspection Data

More construction workers are killed each year than workers in any other industry in the United States," says Rick Rinehart, of OSHA's Construction Directorate.

Even though construction represents only 8 percent of the workforce, 23 percent of all occupational fatalities recorded in 2001 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics were in construction.

"There hasn't been much of a change in construction fatality rates over the last nine years," Rinehart admitted during a session at the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium (NOIRS) 2003 held this week in Pittsburgh.

Construction has some unique features that make it difficult to track reporting of injuries and fatalities and to manage safety on construction sites, he said. The construction industry, said Rinehart:

  • Has millions of active projects
  • Has many contractors (employees)
  • Has many small employers
  • Features highly specialized work
  • Has employers who have workers spread out over multiple sites
  • Has complicated contractual relationships
  • Has occupational safety and health hazards that vary greatly from site to site and from trade to trade.

"The data is lacking to move us forward in preventing construction-related fatalities and injuries," said Rinehart, adding OSHA is attempting to change that.

Current data available from BLS does not tell OSHA or occupational safety and health professionals in the construction industry anything about the structure of the site where a fatality occurred. Is the site a large, multi-contractor project or small, single-contractor job? Was the worker a union or non-union employee? What kind of training did the employee receive? Was there a safety and health professional on site? Was the employee English-speaking? If not, did he or she receive training in his or her language?

Noting that Hispanic and other immigrant employees tend to have higher fatality rates, OSHA has instituted a new questionnaire investigators use during fatality investigations of immigrant or non-English-speaking workers. The questionnaire attempts to answer questions about the "circumstances of the worksite," said Rinehart, such as if employees received training in their native language or if supervisors were able to communicate with them. The hope is that the agency can use the questionnaires to discover trends in the deaths of non-English-speaking workers, trends that can be reversed.

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