In April 2019, a worker fell from a roof to his death while preparing for Coachella, a famous music festival. This man had worked with the festival team for 20 years. He died less than a week before the festival’s kickoff this year.
This incident was just one of at least 5 deadly falls that made headlines over a 2-week span. Texas, Spain, New York, and Florida also had reports of deadly falls. People accidentally fell to their deaths from buildings, rooftops, or other structures while on the job.
Falling has always been a risk for workers, especially those in the construction industry. However, the occurrence of these deadly accidents appears to be increasing. New statistics show that deaths from falls are at record highs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a government agency that annually compiles and reports statistics related to deaths and injuries on job sites.
In 2017, the BLS found that:
- 887 people died in falls or slips while on the job
- 17% of all on-the-job deaths were from falls
- Falls accounted for 39% of deaths in the construction industry
According to the BLS, the number of deaths caused by falls is the highest since the agency began recording such data. Although safety measures help keep thousands safe each year, the number of deaths continues to rise.
Construction Workers and Risk of Falls
Almost all jobs pose some risk to the health of their workers. However, construction work is particularly dangerous. The construction industry has the highest number of job-related fatalities as of 2017. Construction workers are at risk of electrocution and being crushed or harmed by onsite equipment. However, the biggest risk factor for construction workers is falling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that falling is the leading cause of death in this industry. Workers may have to construct buildings hundreds of feet in the air. If they are not protected, they have no chance of surviving a fall. Even those who work just a few feet off the ground are at risk of serious — or deadly — harm.
Construction workers are at risk when they:
- Do not have proper training on safety procedures
- Use equipment that is not properly maintained
- Work under employers who cut corners so they can make money
Fair Warning, a nonprofit news organization, recently released a report about fall-related deaths. Their report notes that in most harmful falls, safety measures were not in place beforehand.
Falls on the Rise
The 2017 data from the BLS is not just a fluke — it continues an alarming trend. Previous BLS statistics show that the amount of deadly falls has been steadily rising. For example, 255 construction workers died in 2011. That number jumped to 370 in 2016.
According to Fair Warning, experts believe that growth in the industry could explain why death counts are on the rise. The BLS notes that the construction industry is projected to grow throughout 2026 at an above-average rate compared to other jobs.
As this growth occurs, there is a greater demand for workers. Fair Warning states that a recent shortage of labor means more people are being hired with little to no experience.
Workers with less experience are at higher risk for falls and other mishaps. For example, one construction worker who fell to his death in New York was just a week into the job.
How to Protect Yourself From Workplace Fatalities
Construction-related falls are a huge problem, but steps are being taken to combat it.
The Fair Warning report mentions that government agencies have collaborated to spread awareness about the issue. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been running a fall prevention campaign since 2012.
In this campaign, OSHA works alongside the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH) and the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) to help employers and their workers stay safe.
When working on projects high in the air, most construction sites use protective equipment. This equipment can be lifesaving, provided that it is used properly.
Fortunately, while fatal fall rates have gone up, nonfatal rates have decreased slightly. In 2014, roughly 50,000 people were hurt due to falls on the job. By 2017, that number had decreased to about 47,000.
The crucial challenge now lies in getting fall-related deaths down. According to Fair Warning, most fall-related deaths are in small construction businesses. These businesses may not have the resources necessary to ensure the safety of their workers.