Participating core and specialty programs: Center for Occupational Robotics Research, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Occupational Health Equity, Prevention through Design, Safe●Skilled●Ready Workforce, Small Business Assistance, and Translation Research.

Insurance companies (including workers’ compensation), businesses, policy-makers, professional associations, and unions adopt interventions to prevent and protect from falls among construction workers.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population* Research Type
A Fatal and non-fatal injuries Falls from elevation Iron workers, sheet metal workers, roofers, power line installers, telecommunications workers, laborers, small businesses, vulnerable workers InterventionTranslation
B Non-fatal injuries Falls on the same level All construction workers (especially laborers, small businesses, vulnerable workers) InterventionTranslation

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 6.2.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct intervention studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of falls prevention and protection interventions among construction workers.

Activity Goal 6.2.2 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective falls prevention and protection interventions in the construction sector.


In 2016, there were over ten million workers in the U.S. construction industry, a number that has been rising since bottoming out in 2012 [CPWR 2017]. Between 2003 and 2016, there were between 267 and 448 fatal falls annually in construction. In 2015, almost six times as many fatal falls occurred in construction compared to manufacturing, the industry with the second highest number [CPWR 2017]. Examining 1,533 fatal falls in construction between 2011 and 2015, approximately 33% were falls from roofs, 24% were falls from ladders, and 15% were falls from scaffolding [CPWR 2017]. Occupations at higher risk include laborers, roofers, ironworkers, sheet metal workers, welders, and power-line installers [CPWR 2013, 2017]. Vulnerable workers at an elevated or disproportionate risk include Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, workers in small businesses, workers with non-standard work arrangements, and older (55 and over) workers [CPWR 2013, 2017].

The burden of injuries from falls on the same level in construction is sometimes overlooked. In 2010, there were approximately 18,130 non-fatal injuries to construction workers as a result of falls. Approximately 40% of those injuries were the result of falls that occurred on the same level [CPWR 2013]. Fatal and non-fatal falls in construction result in heavy economic burdens on workers, families, employers, and society. Even when workers survive, many have traumatic brain or other injuries requiring lengthy rehabilitation, placing substantial emotional, medical, and financial burdens on their families. Falls also result in significant costs to employers, including lost productivity, loss of skilled workers, and increased workers’ compensation costs [OSHA 2012].


Intervention and translation research addressing engineering and design, education and training, communication, and administrative issues is needed to address this problem and achieve meaningful results. Future research to prevent and protect from falls should consider the effects and interactions of environmental, task-related, and personal factors that can affect workers’ balance. Improvements in the work environment, in construction materials and methods, and in work procedures and practices should reduce falls. Research to reduce falls among higher risk groups is especially needed, along with research to understand and evaluate the safety, productivity, and latent hazards of emerging work methods and technologies (e.g., advanced fall prevention and protection technologies, height access devices, drones, automation, and robots).

Falls on the same level or slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are common in construction (representing approximately 19% of all construction falls requiring emergency room visits from 1998–2005) and a leading cause of workers’ compensation claims [Shislov et al. 2011]. Many causes of STFs are unique to construction, easily observable, and should be addressed through research; for example, housekeeping and maintenance are often major contributing factors to falls on the same level [Lipscomb et al. 2006]. A better understanding of causal factors will help in developing effective interventions that can be translated into the work environment.

Safety and health professionals, employers, labor organizations, consensus standard organizations, and robotics manufacturers use NIOSH information to prevent injuries related to automation technologies and robots and to improve safety among construction workers.

  Health Outcome Issue Worker population* Research needed
A Fatal and non-fatal injuries Emerging ground robotics and automation technologies (e.g., collaborative robots, mobile robots) Workers who interact with ground robots, vulnerable workers Basic/etiologic


B Fatal and non-fatal injuries Emerging aerial robotics and automation technologies (e.g., unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV]) Workers who work in close proximity to an aerial robot at a construction site, vulnerable workers Basic/etiologic


C Fatal and non-fatal injuries Codes and other methods needed to identify robot-related injuries


Workers who interact with construction robots, vulnerable workers Surveillance

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 6.3.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand the benefits and risks of emerging ground/aerial robotics and automation technologies regarding injuries (or injury reduction) among construction workers.

Activity Goal 6.3.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to evaluate robotics technologies as sources of, and interventions for, workplace injuries among construction workers.

Activity Goal 6.3.3 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to develop new methods to identify robot-related injuries among construction workers.


More than ten million U.S. construction workers are at high risk of traumatic injuries because of inherently hazardous tasks and dynamic conditions of construction sites. With recent advances in automation and robotics, novel construction approaches are being developed with the potential to reduce occupational injury risks. New and emerging types of robots (e.g., collaborative robots, aerial robots) are becoming more available, and beginning to be more widely used in the construction industry to assist workers in handling hazardous tasks that have been performed traditionally by human workers. Ground robots can take on heavy loads; perform dirty, dangerous, or repetitive work; work at elevation, in hard to reach places, and perform tasks requiring awkward postures at a construction site. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also can be used in the construction industry for various tasks including mapping of construction sites for project planning, monitoring workflow and logistics, inspecting and assessing structures and damages, and handling and transporting materials. In particular, UAVs can prevent construction worker injuries involving falls from heights by taking on tasks at higher elevations.

Market data show that average industrial robot sales worldwide increased 16% per year from 2010–2015, and continuing increases in adoption of industrial robots are predicted [IFR 2016]. It is estimated that more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in workplaces worldwide from 2016–2019 [IFR 2016]. Rapid advances and growth of applications of UAVs are particularly significant in the construction industry. It is estimated that the UAV market will increase to $100 billion by 2020 and the construction industry is expected to be the biggest market for commercial uses that are expected to account for over $11 billion [Goldman Sacks 2016]. Predicted growth of robotics in the construction industry can create new hazards to human workers who work in close proximity to or interact with these emerging technologies. This challenge can be particularly significant because of the characteristics of most construction projects: ever-changing work environments, the need for multiple skilled craftsmen, multiple employers sharing a common worksite, and the interactions of multiple pieces of automated equipment.


Basic and etiologic research are needed to expand our understanding of applications of robotics and automation technologies in the construction industry and associated injury risks. Due to the rapid growth in these technologies, limited safety research addresses the efficacy and safety of collaborative robots, mobile robots, and aerial robots in construction environments. Studies are needed on the impacts of personal, environmental, and task-related risk factors in reducing worker injuries associated with robotics. In addition, developing engineering and administrative controls to enhance reliability of robots and minimize robot-related incidents in the construction workplace are among the topics warranted for further study.

There is also an urgent need to expand occupational injury surveillance capabilities to better identify, monitor, and quantify the burden of fatal and nonfatal injury incidents involving the robotics and automation technologies in the construction industry. For instance, new source or event codes for automation- and robot-related incidents need to be developed for effective surveillance.

CPWR [2013]. The construction chartbook. Fifth Ed. Silver Spring, MD: CPWR- the Center for Construction Research and Training.

CPWR [2017]. Quarterly data report. Fall injuries and prevention in the construction industry. Silver Spring, MD: CPWR- the Center for Construction Research and Training,

Goldman Sachs [2016]. Drones reporting for work.

IFR [2016]. Executive summary world robotics 2016 industrial robots. Frankfurt, Germany: International Federation of Robotics.

Lipscomb HJ, Glazner JE, Bondy J, Gaurini K, Lezotte D. [2006]. Injuries from slips and trips in construction. Appl Ergon 37:267–274

OSHA [2012] Workers’ compensation costs of falls in construction. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration,

Shislov KS, Schoenfisch AL, Myers DJ, Lipscomb HJ [2011]. Non‐fatal construction industry fall‐related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments, 1998–2005. Am J Ind Med 54(2):128-135.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018