Nichole Helmick and Jeremy Petosa
Falls, slips, and trips accounted for 35.3 percent of the workplace deaths within construction and extraction occupations in 2020. Workers in construction and extraction occupations experienced 21,400 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to falls, slips, and trips. Of the 345 construction occupation deaths from falls, 96 occurred among construction laborers. Although falls are the leading cause of death for construction laborers, workers in this occupation encounter other exposures that result in injuries and deaths. This Spotlight on Statistics focuses on the typical physical requirements for construction laborers, exposures they experience on the job, and nonfatal and the fatal injuries they incur.
In 2020, construction laborers saw their highest annual fatal injury count (308) in the last 5 years. Construction laborers accounted for almost a third of all fatal injuries in construction and extraction occupations in 2020, the highest proportion since 2016.
While construction laborers experienced more workplace deaths in 2020 (308) than in 2019 (293), overall construction and extraction occupations experienced a decrease (1,066 to 976). First-line supervisors accounted for 9.0 percent (88 of 976) of workplace deaths in construction and extraction occupations in 2020.
From 2019 to 2020, the incidence rate for nonfatal work injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work increased from 94.8 cases to 127.2 cases per 10,000 full-time workers for all occupations. Meanwhile, the incidence rate for construction laborers declined over the same timeframe (from 233.7 cases to 213.9 cases). The rate in 2016 was 316.0. Although the rate and overall count decreased for construction laborers in 2020, case counts for specific events did not all decline. For example, nonfatal cases due to exposure to harmful substances or environments increased from 450 in 2019 to 1,500 in 2020.
The incidence rate for construction and extraction occupations also decreased from 2019 (163.9) to 2020 (156.2).
A worker is considered exposed to heights when their center of gravity is more than 5 feet off the ground and the worker is at risk of injury from falling. This means walls or railings do not surround the worker to prevent falling. For construction laborers, 62.2 percent experience exposure to heights. Personal protective equipment (PPE), which typically includes safety harnesses or tethers, mitigates some of the risk of exposure. Thirty-one percent of construction laborers use PPE.
In 2020, construction laborers accounted for 27.8 percent of falls, slips, or trips among workers in construction and extraction occupations. Most of these were falls to a lower level. Moreover, 31.2 percent of all deaths for construction laborers came from falls, slips, or trips. Across all occupations, construction laborers experienced 11.9 percent of the fatal falls, slips, or trips in 2020.
Construction and extraction occupations in general face a heavy burden of the overall workplace falls, slips, or trips. In fact, 42.9 percent of all fatal falls, slips, or trips in 2020 were of workers in construction and extraction occupations.
In 2020, the incidence rate for nonfatal falls, slips, or trips was higher for construction laborers (52.5 cases per 10,000 full-time workers) than all workers (22.9 cases). Moreover, the rate for construction laborers is higher than the rates for falls, slips, or trips of overall construction and extraction occupations (41.1 cases) and of first-line supervisors (25.5 cases).
Construction laborers experienced fewer falls on the same level in 2020 than they did in 2019.
We measure the strength levels needed for each occupation, which are calculated from the weight a worker needs to lift, the time needed to lift or carry the weight, and the time spent standing and walking. There are five strength levels: sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.
Construction laborers typically require either heavy or medium levels of strength. Heavy strength was required for 38.8 percent of construction laborers, making it one of the largest proportions of occupations to require this level of strength. Another 54.0 percent of construction laborers required medium strength. By comparison, 8.9 percent of all civilian workers require heavy strength and 28.2 percent required medium strength.
On average, construction laborers are required to lift or carry 58.8 pounds, compared to the average for all occupations of 26.3 pounds.
Injuries or illnesses from overexertion can result from events involving movement of the body or excessive physical effort (such as overexertion in lifting or lowering). In 2020, the incidence rate of overexertion and bodily reaction for construction laborers was 48.3 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, down from 61.6 in 2019. However, in 2020 construction laborers still had higher rates stemming from overexertion and bodily reaction than either construction and extraction occupations (39.3) or first-line supervisors (32.5). Additionally, the rate for construction laborers regarding overexertion in lifting or lowering in 2020 (18.5) was higher than that of construction and extraction occupations (12.0) or of first-line supervisors (7.3).
Construction laborers experienced 3,950 nonfatal injuries or illness resulting in at least one day away from work due to overexertion in 2020, down from 5,390 cases in 2019.
Nearly a third (30.9 percent) of construction laborers are required to drive on the job. Driving includes operating passenger vehicles, light trucks, and motor operated equipment. This driving requirement is separate from any requirement to be a passenger during normal work. First-line supervisors of construction and extraction workers are more often required to drive (86.2 percent) than construction laborers.
Transportation incidents are the second highest cause of death for construction laborers, accounting for 75 fatalities in 2020. This is an increase from 73 in 2019 and is the highest number in a year from 2016 to 2020.
While workplace transportation deaths increased from 2019 to 2020 for construction laborers, construction and extraction occupations saw a 15.5-percent decline in fatal transportation incidents from 2019 to 2020. First-line supervisors saw a 52.4-percent decline from 2019 to 2020. Among all occupations, fatal workplace transportation incidents declined by 16.2 percent (2,122 to 1,778) from 2019 to 2020.
Proximity to moving parts is the operation of or proximity to moving materials, mechanical parts, settings, or any moving objects that could cause bodily harm. The moving objects are most commonly moving machinery or equipment. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for moving mechanical parts includes protective guards that would mitigate accidents causing bodily contact.
Sixty percent of construction laborers work near moving mechanical parts and 50.0 percent use PPE. Approximately 3.8 percent of construction laborers with risk from proximity to moving part are fully mitigated by PPE, in addition to the other 60.0 percent. When the potential exposure is fully mitigated by PPE, we consider the workers to not have exposure, so they are not included in estimates of using PPE.
Construction laborers consistently experienced higher rates of injuries from contact with objects and equipment in 2020 than the other occupations discussed here. First-line supervisors experienced consistently lower incidence rates compared with all construction and extraction workers, among the selected events or exposures.
Sixty-five construction laborers (21.1 percent) died in 2020 due to contact with objects and equipment.
Exposure to hazards measures the risk after workers use available personal protective equipment (PPE). Hazards are substances that negatively affect the respiratory system, eyes, skin, or other living tissue through inhalation, ingestion, or contact.
Some workers can use PPE to fully eliminate their risk of exposure to hazardous contaminates, including approximately 11.5 percent of all construction and extraction workers. When the use of PPE has fully mitigated the exposure, those workers are not included in the estimate of workers exposed to hazardous contaminants or workers using PPE.
In 2020, construction laborers experienced 8.9 percent of all workplace deaths due to exposure to harmful substances or environments. The 2020 count of construction laborers who died due to this type of exposure was the highest in a year from 2016 to 2020.
This trend in fatal case counts mirrors that of overall construction and extraction occupations. While construction and extraction occupations saw an 8.9-percent increase in deaths stemming from exposure to harmful substances or environments, their first-line supervisors saw a slight decrease from 2019 to 2020.
Nearly all construction laborers work outdoors. Ninety-four percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations have outdoor exposures, and 85.5 percent of first-line supervisors of these workers work outside. Eighty-one percent of construction laborers work outside constantly, defined as more than two-thirds of the time. That compares with 41.3 percent of workers in all construction and extraction occupations and 35.9 percent of first-line supervisors of construction and extraction workers.
About 1 in 5 construction laborers are exposed to loud noise on the job.
Nichole Helmick is an economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jeremy Petosa was an economist in that office. For questions about this Spotlight, please email email@example.com.
This Spotlight looks at data on construction laborers from the Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS), Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), and Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). ORS captures the physical and cognitive requirements of work and the exposures and risks. CFOI publishes the count of work-related fatal injuries and data on their circumstances. SOII estimates incidence rates and counts of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Within SOII, cases involving days away from work are those requiring at least one day away from work (beyond the day of injury or onset of illness) with or without days of job transfer or restriction. Rates of days away from work per 10,000 full-time workers are the focus in this Spotlight, given the presence of data related to specific occupations and case characteristics.
Construction laborers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites. They operate hand tools, power tools, and a variety of equipment such as air hammers, cement mixers, and surveying and measuring equipment. They may clean and prepare sites, dig trenches, set braces to support the sides of excavations, erect scaffolding, and clean up rubble, debris, and other waste materials. As of May 2021, there were 968,760 people employed as construction laborers.
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