Wages, education indicators of lower construction fatalities

Analysis of BLS data also found states with more nonfatal injuries had fewer fatal injuries
Nonfatal injuries are negatively correlated with fatal injuries in construction. (Photo: Unsplash)

High wages and an educated labor pool may be indicators of safer construction worksites. That’s according to an analysis done by John Mendeloff, professor of public affairs at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Wayne Gray, professor of economics at Clark University and executive director of the Boston Census Research Data Center.

States where wages were 20% higher had construction fatality rates that were 1.2 times lower than other states, according to the professors. Education is also connected to lower fatalities on construction jobsites; in states where 10% or more of construction workers had a high school education, fatalities were 2.1 times lower.

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Mendeloff and Gray wondered about the role public policy played in these fatalities, and how policy could be manipulated to reduce the rate of fatalities around the country. For their analysis, they considered the effect that enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and by states operating an OSHA-approved state plan, have on fatal injuries.

“This is pretty important because obviously if we can reduce the high-rate states down to the low-rate or even the middle, we’d be able to save hundreds of deaths each year,” Mendeloff said on a webinar in January hosted by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).

More inspections were also tied to lower fatality rates. The analysis found that when 9% of workplaces were inspected, compared to 6% of workplaces, fatalities fell be a factor of 0.4. Gray noted a “surprising and unexpected result on penalties per inspection,” where a higher penalty-per-inspection rate was associated with a higher fatality rate.

“It’s conceivable that … having lots of hazards [on a jobsite] might be associated with higher fatalities and higher penalties, but we haven’t really delved into that,” he said.

[Related: With looming labor shortages, new legislation aims to bring shop class back to school]

Some other factors that have a less surprising impact on fatality rates:

  • States where heavy construction accounted for a lower percentage of construction had lower fatality rates.
  • Larger firms and states with higher employment growth or an older workforce experienced higher fatality rates.

State plans

The report found that nonfatal injuries are negatively correlated with fatal injuries in construction.

“In general, states with high injury rates have low fatality rates and vice versa,” Mendeloff said. “Essentially, there’s bad reporting in some states, and those states, not coincidentally, also happen to be the ones that don’t do a very good job of preventing injuries.”

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

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