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American companies reported more than 4,800 fatal work injuries in 2015, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately 927 of these incidents occurred on construction sites, representing an increase of 4 percent over statistics collected in 2014.


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Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters were particularly vulnerable, as each of these occupations approached abnormally high fatality thresholds, Construction Dive reported. This new data may further galvanize the external and internal forces seeking to reform worksite safety policies and ensure that construction professionals can perform their job duties without fearing injury or death.

New regulations for dangerous times

Despite the rise of new technology and the general modernization of the construction industry, workers still face many dangers when navigating worksites. Consequently, contractors and other organizations within the trade are expected to do what they can to mitigate these risks. While most effectively protect their employees, far too many still overlook simple safety guidelines. This has forced state and federal officials to step in and reinforce existing worksite regulations, as well as financial penalties.

In June of last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration increased workplace safety fines by 78 percent. Under these new rules, which took effect Aug. 1, the top penalty for serious violations rose from $7,000 to $12,471. And, the maximum fine for willful or repeat violations skyrocketed from $70,000 to $124,709. 

“Civil penalties should be a credible deterrent that influences behavior far and wide,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez explained in a news release. “Adjusting our penalties to keep pace with the cost of living can lead to significant benefits for workers and can level the playing field [for] responsible employers who should not have to compete with those who don’t follow the law.”

This followed new injury reporting regulations that require firms to submit employee injury data to OSHA for public consumption, according to The Wall Street Journal.

These requirements, along with state-sponsored supplements, have incentivized businesses in the construction sector to comply with industry-standard safety regulations and may soon prompt a long-term decrease in workplace deaths and injuries.

Challenges ahead

An increased demand for housing has prompted many to streamline processes to more quickly execute projects and take advantage of more opportunities. While this strategy carries obvious financial benefits, it also comes with new risks for the worksite personnel responsible for meeting shorter deadlines. Unfortunately, many contractors and construction companies across the country have failed to address the latter. For example, builders in New York City have dealt with dozens of worker deaths over the past couple years – the symptom of a local housing boom, The New York Times reported.

Employee advocates and trade unions believe businesses in the construction industry must balance productivity goals with new safety regulations. Such action may just reduce rising fatalities in the industry and costly safety citations.

Sources:

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cfoi.nr0.htm

http://www.constructiondive.com/news/bls-construction-fatalities-rose-4-in-2015/432563/

https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=32745

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/03/nyregion/as-construction-deaths-rise-a-mass-for-fallen-workers-grows.html

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-post-employer-data-about-workplace-injuries-illnesses-1462997042