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Injured at Work?

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How dangerous is construction work?

Construction work poses many risks. With power tools, heavy equipment, heights and electricity all coming together to threaten the safety of workers, not to mention the risk of musculoskeletal injury posed by awkward lifting and repetitive actions, construction takes a heavy toll on worker health every year.

Average distribution of full-time construction workers
Average distribution of full-time construction workers by trade, 20011.
Rate of nonfatal occupational injury
Rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases with days away from work by construction trade, 1992-20012.

By taking a look at this data from NIOSH, we can see that most of those employed in construction fall into the category of general workers, while the number of specialized contractors is fairly low. However, even though ironworkers make up the smallest percentage of full-time construction workers, their category accounts for the highest rate of days away from work due to nonfatal injuries or illnesses.

Ironworkers are routinely called upon to work at great heights, meaning that their chance of injury due to falling is substantial3. They almost always work with power tools, which further exposes them to danger.

Unskilled laborers find themselves near the top of the list, along with truck drivers. Those who have received little training in the safety and ergonomics required to successfully perform injury-free construction have a much greater chance of engaging in risky behaviors on the job site. Truck drivers also have to contend with the risk of being hurt in vehicle collisions or incidents involving their own vehicles.

Fatal occupational injury rates
Fatal occupational injury rates by construction trade, 20014.
Fatal occupational fall rates by selected construction trade
Fatal occupational fall rates by selected construction trade, 20015.

Fatal construction accidents tell a different story. Once again, ironworkers lead the pack, but they are followed by roofers as the next closest in terms of work-related deaths. This speaks volumes to the substantial dangers posed by heights and falls. Welders and cutters, unskilled laborers and truck drivers round out the top five, but in terms of fatal falls, general laborers are in third position right behind roofers. Electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters, brickmasons and drywall installers are all below the average occupational fatality rate found in construction work, indicating that their primary health risks are related to musculoskeletal injuries which are not life threatening.

Construction work can be said to pose two separate but equally real dangers to those working in the industry. The first is the risk of death due to accidents, falls, or machinery. The second are the serious and potentially chronic injuries that can result from using equipment improperly, unsafe lifting or repeated awkward motions while performing a job.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid323.htm
2NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid330.htm
3Kelner and Kelner, n.d.. Ironworker Personal Injury. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.kelnerlaw.com/html/trades.html
4NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid326.htm
5NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid329.htm

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