Statement: Mark H. Ayers, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Regarding Recent Fatalities In Construction Industry

Construction workers deserve to come home after a hard day's work, healthy and alive.-Mark H. Ayers, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO

From PR Newswire (5/30/08) :
WASHINGTON, May 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The recent spate of construction worksite fatalities - including a fatal tower crane collapse in New York City today and a disturbing trend of construction fatalities in Las Vegas, NV - have raised public awareness of the real dangers faced daily by those who work in the construction industry. Our hearts go out to the grieving families, friends and neighbors who loved and cherished those workers and bystanders killed in these accidents. All of us who work within the construction trades mourn with them.

Yet tomorrow, another three or four workers could be killed working in the construction industry. And two the next day. And four the next. The sad fact is an average of four construction workers die on the job every day in our nation. In 2006, 1,282 construction workers died from injuries they sustained on the job.

Yet, almost every death on a construction site is preventable.

For those of us working in the construction safety and health field, there is no such thing as an accident, only a preventable injury. Hazards abound on construction sites, but many hazards can be reduced or eliminated. Workers in a trench can be buried alive - if the walls of the trench are not properly supported. An ironworker, so comfortable walking on a steel beam 100 feet above ground that he treats it like a sidewalk, can slip on a thin patch of dried mud or a stray bolt and fall to his death - if he is not secured with a safety harness. Even a housepainter on a ladder 10 feet above the ground can just as easily suffer a fatal fall - if he or she is carrying tools up the ladder, is using a broken ladder, or one that will not support their weight. Electrocutions, being crushed by equipment or struck by an object are just some of the other dangers.

Construction workers suffer more than 22 percent of all work-related deaths, but these workers make up only 8 percent of the workforce.

Of course, every worker who is injured does not die. More than 400,000 construction workers are injured annually; some result in a career-ending or even permanent disability. But not every injury is obvious. Wet cement, which burns the skin of a worker who doesn't have protective clothing, can go unnoticed because the caustic agents eat away at skin with little pain. A cement burn damages muscle tissue and can even require amputation of limbs.

Injuries aren't the only hazards. Occupational illnesses, usually from exposure to hazardous compounds, make take years to develop, but they have long-term health consequences. Dust from cutting bricks or concrete block, welding fumes, and paint vapors contain all the components necessary for numerous lung ailments and lung cancer. Even the guy cutting your granite countertop is at risk for inhaling silica, which causes the lung disease silicosis.

The Governing Board of Presidents of the Building & Construction Trades Department will meet next week to examine this issue in greater detail and formulate recommendations designed to effectively improve jobsite safety in the construction industry.

Training and education of workers in safety and health measures is crucial. So is training and educating the supervisory personnel and employers who control the site to ensure that safety does not fall off the daily checklist. And OSHA must step up its enforcement of job safety rules and regulations.

Thousands of families are depending on industry stakeholders, as well as employers and well-trained workers, to look out for each other. Construction workers deserve to come home after a hard day's work, healthy and alive.
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