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Construction Safety and Health

	collage of construction workers

Construction workers build our roads, houses and workplaces and repair and maintain our nation's physical infrastructure. This work includes many hazardous tasks and conditions such as work at height, excavations, noise, dust, power tools and equipment, confined spaces and electricity. Construction workers incurred the most fatal injuries of any industry in the private sector in 2009, but this number declined in both 2009 (by 16%) and 2008 (by 19%). With this decrease, private sector construction fatalities are down by more than a third overall since peaking in 2006. Economic conditions may explain much of this decline – the total hours worked in construction also went down 17 per cent in 2009 and 10 per cent the year before.

These decreases were more pronounced in some construction subgroups. Fatal injuries involving workers in the construction of buildings, for example, were down more than a quarter (27%) from 2008, with most of the decrease occurring in nonresidential building construction (down 44%). Fatalities in heavy and civil engineering construction were down 12 per cent, and the subsector with the largest number of fatal work injuries – specialty trade contractors – had 16 per cent fewer fatalities in 2009 than in 2008.

Source: Economic News Release August 19, 2010: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2009
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Classifying Construction: NAICS 23

“The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.”

Source: North American Industry Classification System (NAICS): Introduction
U.S. Census Bureau.

Under the NAICS classifications, the construction sector is part of the goods-producing industries supersector group.

It "comprises establishments primarily engaged in the construction of buildings or engineering projects (e.g., highways and utility systems). Establishments primarily engaged in the preparation of sites for new construction and establishments primarily engaged in subdividing land for sale as building sites also are included in this sector. Construction work done may include new work, additions, alterations, or maintenance and repairs. Activities of these establishments generally are managed at a fixed place of business, but they usually perform construction activities at multiple project sites. Production responsibilities for establishments in this sector are usually specified in (1) contracts with the owners of construction projects (prime contracts) or (2) contracts with other construction establishments (subcontracts)."

Source: North American Industry Classification System (NAICS): 2007 NAICS Definition
U.S. Census Bureau.

The construction sector consists of three subsectors:

Fatal Injuries in Construction

In 2009, private industry construction workers1 had a fatal occupational injury rate nearly three times that of all workers in the United States: 9.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent construction workers vs. 3.3 for all workers. Construction also had three of the ten occupations with the highest fatal injury rates: roofers at 34.7 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, structural iron and steel workers at 30.3, and laborers at 18.3. The number of fatal injuries in construction declined from 975 in 2008 to 816 in 2009. The distribution of these fatalities across construction occupations also changed slightly. The proportion of fatalities among laborers increased from 22 per cent in 2008 to fully one-quarter in 2009. First line supervisors, carpenters, and electricians also saw their share of fatal injuries increase from 9 to 12 per cent, from 7 to 9 per cent, and from 5 to 7 per cent, respectively. Construction managers, equipment operators, painters, and truck drivers all saw small decreases in their proportions of fatal injuries from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, falls accounted for more than one-third of fatal occupational injuries in construction (34%). Nearly half (48%) of all fatal falls in private industry were to construction workers. Transportation-related events were the second leading fatal injury event (25%) in construction, followed by contact with objects and equipment (19%) and exposure to harmful substances and environments (16%).

Source: Economic News Release August 19, 2010: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2009
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: Census of Fatal Occupational Injury 2009 Preliminary Data, Charts
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: Table A-1. Fatal occupational injuries by industry and event or exposure, All United States, 2009
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nonfatal Injury and Illness in Construction

In General

There were 3.3 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses reported across all industries in 2009, of which almost 95 per cent were injuries and just over 5 per cent were illnesses. More than 9 per cent of the nonfatal illnesses and injuries requiring days away from work were experienced by construction workers (92,540). Construction workers reported 4.3 nonfatal injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers.

Falls accounted for more than one in every five of these injuries and illnesses (22%). Construction laborers experienced the seventh-highest rate of nonfatal injury and illness requiring days away from work of all occupations (382 per 10,000 full-time workers). Hispanic/Latino workers experienced nonfatal injuries and illnesses disproportionately, with almost one-fifth of cases (19%).

Source: Economic News Release October 21, 2010: Workplace Injury and Illness Summary
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses 2009 Summary Tables and Data Charts: Table 1 , Table 2
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.


NIOSH collects data on the blood lead levels of U.S. adults through the state-based Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) Program . According to ABLES, a blood lead level equal to or greater than 10 µg/dL is elevated. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in their Healthy People 2020 program, aims to reduce the proportion of people in the U.S. who have elevated blood lead concentrations from work exposures. From 2002 through 2008, construction workers represented 15% of cases reported to of blood levels exceeding 25 µg/dL.

Respiratory Diseases

NIOSH’s Work-Related Lung Disease (WoRLD) Surveillance System presents up-to-date summary tables, graphs, and figures of work-related respiratory disease surveillance data on the pneumoconioses, occupational asthma and other airways diseases, and several other respiratory conditions. From 1990 through 1999, there were more than 1000 construction worker deaths with pneumoconiosis reported on the death certificate as a work-related condition. Asbestosis (702), Coal workers Pneumoconiosis (188), and Silicosis (118) represented the leading forms of pneumoconiosis leading to death in construction.

1All of the statistics in the fatal and nonfatal injury sections of this topic page refer to private industry construction and exclude public sector workers.

For More Information

For more information on the NIOSH Construction Program, NORA, for links to additional construction safety information and resources, and to search NIOSH Construction-related publications, please visit the NIOSH Construction Directory .