"The worst day of my life," a southeast Texas-based home building job site supervisor told me last week, "was having to call the wife of one of our workers one afternoon, and tell her her husband wasn't coming home that night."
He'd gotten hurt on the job that day, and was heading to the hospital.
Fortunately, in that particular instance, the worker fully recovered and made it back onto his crew on the site.
"I've told my folks up and down the chain of command here, I don't ever want to have to make that kind of call again. I want our team members to make it home to their families each and every evening without fail, without accident, and without injury," he said.
More than one out of five fatalities in private industry--991 of 4,696 total deaths--is on a construction site, according to statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor.
That's 20 fatal construction site incidents a week, in this day and age. What's more, non-fatal accidents and injuries in construction occur at a rate of 3 per 100 workers annually, many of them resulting in days away from work.
And, that data only includes cases to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which probably omit what happens to undocumented foreign-born workers on many construction sites.
The good news is that these rates--fatalities and non-fatal injuries and accidents at jobsites--are down quite dramatically from where they were a decade ago.
- Worker deaths in America are down-on average, from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016.
- Worker injuries and illnesses are down-from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.9 per 100 2016.
Still, if you're a project supervisor dealing with already-tight construction timelines and already-tenuous access to subcontractor crews thanks to a pervasive shortage of newly-trained workers, even current levels and rates of accident and injury are unacceptable.
Here are the "fatal four" areas responsible for almost two-thirds of construction worker deaths in 2016, according to OSHA, which makes the point that, if these types of accidents and injuries were prevented, would save 631 lives per year.
- Falls — 384 out of 991 total deaths in construction in CY 2016 (38.7%)
- Struck by Object - 93 (9.4%)
- Electrocutions - 82 (8.3%)
- Caught-in/between* - 72 (7.3%)
Now, one of the reasons we're focusing on construction jobsite and worker safety is that Spring Selling Season normally means an acceleration of production starts, pressure on cycle and delivery times, and Swiss-clock management of trade crew completion schedules, both to manage completions and labor costs.
Another reason for calling attention to this issue is that the National Association of Home Builders has teamed with long-time partner Builders Mutual Insurance Co. to launch Safety 365, to add emphasis that worker safety needs to be a priority 24/7 and 365 days a year. The NAHB notes:
“Our members realize the importance of jobsite safety because we know that our employees have families to return home to. We want to keep these workers safe from accidents and injuries,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a home builder and developer from La Place, La. “Safety 365 is an important initiative that will keep these efforts at the forefront of our industry.”
That call to a worker's spouse, parents, or others, telling them that their family member won't be coming home due to an accident or injury on the job, is one no supervisor wants to have to make. Ever.