hard hat on ground

Without skilled construction workers, we wouldn’t have sturdy roofs over our heads or the highways, bridges and other infrastructure that are necessary to our everyday lives. Construction is important work that unfortunately is filled with safety risks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five on-the-job deaths are in the construction industry; 991 construction workers died nationwide and many more were injured in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. And the news is no better closer to home. A recent study by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health reported that construction-related fatalities are on the rise in the Empire State. In New York City, the construction sector had the highest rate of occupational deaths of all workplace fatalities across industries.

Nationwide, the top four causes of construction worker fatalities are falling, being struck by an object, electrocution and getting caught in between equipment. Risk contractors and construction managers believe that a major driver of workplace danger is a shortage of skilled workers. The most recent quarterly survey conducted by building materials manufacturer USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, showed that 80% of construction contractors are at least moderately concerned about safety risks created by workforce shortages. These survey results were released in September 2018 in the Commercial Construction Index. The report’s data was gleaned from over 2,700 survey responses from decision-makers in the commercial construction industry.

The survey also showed that:

  • 56% of respondents want to hire additional workers in the next six months but are challenged by labor availability and cost.
  • 58% of respondents are highly concerned about the skill levels of the workforce. This concern is one of the top two safety concerns reported by contractors. The other is shorter schedules.
  • 49% of people surveyed said shorter construction schedules are affecting safety, and 47% said this will be the case for the next three years.

When job sites are shorthanded and schedules are ever more condensed, fewer people must work longer and harder, which can lead to fatigue, distraction and accidents. Opioid abuse and alcohol and marijuana can also take their toll on safety, and all three garnered high levels of concern from survey respondents.

Why is there a shortage of skilled workers in the construction labor force? In addition to the economic downturn and the consequent building bust a few years back when many workers left the field for good, another theory is that relatively low pay, few benefits and poor job security don’t make construction jobs desirable to young people. Most kids coming out of high school are not interested in jobs in construction. So perhaps the leaders in the industry who are concerned about safety risks due to the lack of skilled workers should take steps to improve working conditions to attract these young people and others. By not making improvements, they may be “shooting themselves in the foot.”

If you have a question about a construction workplace accident or need the services of an experienced accident attorney for another reason, the professionals at Kaplan Law are available for you to contact 24/7.