My Google Alerts exploded today with mentions of a “new” report from the Associated General Contractors (AGC): Preventing Fatalities in the Construction Industry. By page 5 of the 30 page report (including cover, title page, and references), I had already opened multiple browser windows to fact-check. I feel this report is dangerous because it presents old data with weak recommendations. The study will likely receive a lot of attention due to AGC’s high profile. It is important to consume the study thoughtfully as part of your research, and not as an exclusive resource.
Right off the bat, it appears that the AGC report used unrevised data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), published by the BLS each year. The AGC’s study years include 2010-2012. For quick comparison, I made the table below to illustrate the data used in the AGC reports vs. the revised CFOI data.
BLS statistics for 2015 were released in December of 2016, and revisions for 2013-2014 have posted. I am not sure why AGC chose the years 2010-2012 for their study when updated information is readily available. The press release date for the AGC report is April 4, 2017.
The table below includes the data from the years studied by AGC along with all years for which data is available via the BLS. Fatalities have increased by 16% from the last date of the AGC study (2012) to the most recent date that fatality statistics are available (2015). As an industry, we have much work to do as fatalities continue to increase.
The report begins with a discussion of the Fatal Four. In 2011, one of the AGC study years, fatal work injuries attributed to the Fatal Four were the third lowest annual total since the CFOI began in 1992. Using the most updated data available, in 2015, the Fatal Four accounted for 64.2% of all construction worker deaths. OSHA states that eliminating deaths related to the Fatal Four in construction would save 602 workers’ lives each year. The AGC includes zero mentions of the Fatal Four.
After Region and Sector, the AGC report breaks down fatalities by Season. “Potential Actions” are included at the end of each section to conclude the discussion. The “Potential Actions” related to season fatalities (March through August) are weak, with 3 of 5 recommendations related to heat. The other 2 recommendations are vague at best and include using a buddy system for “risky tasks” and encouraging contractors to benchmark their data against the national statistics. The latter “Potential Action” is repeated in each section of the report.
A quick look at OSHA’s landing page for heat illness indicates that 18 workers died in 2014 due to heat stroke and related causes on the job. This figure is for all industries, so one could infer that the number of heat related fatalities in construction is lower than 18.
The Season section of the AGC report misses the opportunity to challenge their members to amp up their injury and fatality prevention measures during their busiest months. The age-old battle between production and safety is REAL at many jobsites throughout the US and is worthy of discussion at all levels.
The “Potential Actions” suggests that Fridays may be “safer” than other work days as there are more fatalities occurring on Monday through Thursday. Those of us familiar with construction work know that it is quite common to work “four tens” (four days, usually Mon-Thu, 10 hours each day). Fridays present less statistical exposure as there are likely significantly less workers on jobsites in the US on any given Friday.
TIME OF DAY
The report veers off course again in this section where the “Potential Actions” suggest an “all-points-bulletin” be issued to workers to let them know that data suggests that the “lunch hour is the most prone to fatalities.” It is likely that “noon” is used as a time of fatality in contractor reports if the exact time was not known, and this could be skewing the data.
Spending time on data like this is not likely to have much impact on prevention of fatalities. Many of the secondary news sources reporting on AGC’s study cited this “noon” finding as significant and a challenge to long-held beliefs in the industry.
Another way to look at this lunch time fatality phenomenon is that this time of day is near the end of the work day for jobsites that begin work at 6am. Often, the working day will begin with a canned tailgate meeting that does not discuss the safety procedures that should be followed for the specific tasks to be completed during the day. “Noon” represents six hours into such a workday, where a morning break and lunch have already occurred. Safety should be stressed throughout each day and contractors should explore how they can make that happen at their site.
The discussion in this section of the report is weak as well – this really should have been the bulk of the report, with significant guidance provided to AGC members. A chart of event/exposure and the percentage of fatalities related to them is presented, yet not specifically discussed. I wanted more out of this study, so I looked at the top exposure from each Source category identified in the report. These conditions represent the largest source of fatalities in the years covered by AGC’s study and are likely similar to the years 2013 to the present.
According to the study, firms with less than 10 employees have a higher rate of fatality, yet the AGC guidance in this section is broad and impossible. The “Potential Actions” suggests that AGC members should “consider transferring culture, policies, and procedures to smaller contractors and subcontractors.”
This section is towards the end of the study yet I feel that THIS is an area that AGC could have the most impact! Many firms with less than 10 employees do not have the means to join such an association but could benefit from mentoring by larger firms with access to AGC’s resources. Mentoring could be in the form of sharing safety resources and training or including stronger safety language in contracts.
AGE AND ETHNICITY
The data presented in this section is incomplete. It does not include information on the concentration of the age or ethnic groups in the overall working population. The only mention is that “Hispanics” make up 24% of the construction workforce, but it is unclear which year this represents.
HIGHWAY AND WORK ZONE TRENDS
This section is another missed opportunity. It ends by stating that public deaths related to “work zone incursions” are much higher than worker fatalities in the same work zones. This could be explored much further to understand the parameters that work zone contractors must work within, i.e.: how much they can lower the speed limit in a work zone, traffic control plan requirements, and the ability to request full shutdowns of roads instead of closures of individual lanes to further protect both the workers and public.
Communication with AAA and DOTs is suggested by AGC’s study, but as an association that represents an industry at the federal and state regulatory levels, the AGC should aim much higher to truly impact work zone fatalities.
The study calls out specific states in the AGC’s Southern Region, but could go further in challenging members in these states to do better. I’m looking at you – Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma (stated as “OR” in the AGC study), Louisiana, and Texas. Specific goals could be discussed and set by local level AGC chapters in these states based on the unique challenges of each state.
An example of a recent and relevant regional resource is New York’s Deadly Skyline Report, published in January 2017 in response to fatalities in 2015-2016 in the state. This level of information is something that all AGC chapters should use as an example for future safety-related publications.
This is one of my longest blog posts. The short study presented by AGC with old data riled me up. As a safety professional, I am always striving to present the most relevant and practical data to my clients and colleagues so they can make informed and proactive decisions. Data moves people to make decisions when presented in an efficient and meaningful way. The AGC study will get attention because AGC is a huge association with a high profile. I encourage everyone receiving the study to look deeper, do some of your own research using www.bls.gov, and be thoughtful about how you use the data at your company.