The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by enforcing occupational safety and health standards; assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; and providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health. OSHA’s mission is to reduce occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
A preliminary total of 4,679 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2014, an increase of 2 percent over the revised count of 4,585 fatal work injuries in 2013, according to results from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Falls are the leading cause of death in construction and a leading cause of death in the non-construction industries. Workers in construction may be exposed to fall hazards while working from ladders, scaffolds, roofs, communications towers, or any other elevated workspace. According to BLS fatal falls, slips, and trips were up 10 percent in 2014 from the previous year. Falls to lower level were up 9 percent to 647 from 595 in 2013, and falls on the same level increased 17 percent. In 2014, 532 of the 647 fatal fall to lower level, the height of the fall was known. Of those cases in which the height of fall was known, four-fifths involved falls of 30 feet or less (427) while about two-thirds (340) involved falls of 20 feet or less.
Fatal injuries among construction trades workers increased 3 percent in 2014 to 611 fatalities, the highest count since 2009. Fatal work injuries to construction laborers, the occupation within construction trades workers with the highest number of fatalities, decreased by 14 cases in 2014 to 206. Conversely, the number of fatally injured electricians increased by 14 cases in 2014 to 78.
BLS states that in 2014, the number of fatal occupational injuries incurred by contracted workers was 797, or 17 percent of all fatal injuries, compared to 749 (16 percent) reported in 2013. Falls to a lower level accounted for 33 percent of contracted worker deaths while struck by object or equipment (17 percent). Over half of the contracted workers (415 workers) were working in construction and extraction occupations when fatally injured. These employees were most often employed as construction laborers (108); electricians (48); first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers (44); roofers (42); and painters, construction and maintenance (25).
So where are we in South Florida? The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) South Florida Chapter and the OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area office mutually recognize the importance of providing a safe and healthful work environment for employees engaged in the construction industry. AGC South Florida Chapter and OSHA signed a strategic partnership agreement on April 6, 2005. The Tampa and Jacksonville Area Offices later joined in on this partnership, which extended it throughout the entire State of Florida.
Through this partnership and other cooperative initiatives in the construction industry throughout South Florida, there has been much success in reducing injuries, illness and fatalities among construction workers. A look at fatality data for the last 15 fiscal years in the Ft. Lauderdale Area Office jurisdiction revealed that in FY 2000 there were 54 deaths with 17 in construction. In FY 2015 there were 37 deaths with 8 in construction.
So what was the trend in construction in South Florida for the last 15 years?
Of course OSHA cannot not take credit for all of this. Credit must also be given to contractors and associations that see the value in protecting workers. AGC contractors and others have contributed thousands of hours to train workers, conducting inspections of worksites and enforcing safety on their jobsites.
The AGC – OSHA strategic partnership expired in June of this year. I have been working closely with the safety committee to develop another agreement. We hope this Partnership will address the hazards within the construction industry, and promote and recognize jobsites controlled and managed by partners that join the Partnership who have demonstrated an effective safety and health management system (SHMS). The Partnership agreement will serve to establish a cooperative effort in ensuring a safe worksite and maintaining an open line of communication between OSHA, AGC, and the contractors that choose to join. This Partnership will be consistent with OSHA’s efforts to better use our resources, encourage safety management systems, and increase participation by construction contractors to utilize safety processes. OSHA, University of South Florida SafetyFlorida Consultation Program and the AGC South Florida Chapter plan to work together by combining their efforts, skills, knowledge and resources, to reduce exposure to hazards and thereby decrease the possibility of serious injuries, illnesses and fatalities at participating job sites.