On Monday, the Indiana Department of Labor released its preliminary data analysis report on the number of workplace deaths in 2011. The report concluded that “if there is a silver lining here, it is that our more dangerous workplaces are becoming safer as a result of a conscious understanding of safety concerns by businesses and cultural shift towards safer work environments at all levels.” In 2011, 19 construction workers died on a job site in Indiana. The highest number of construction site deaths in the past decade was in 2005 when 29 workers died. Certainly, it is a blessing that fewer men and women have suffered fatal injuries while working on Indiana construction job sites. Are Indiana job sites getting any safer? No, they are not.
The reality that Indiana’s construction workers know all too well is that work is scarce because there are a lot fewer projects going on than in the past. In 2005, there were 38,476 new privately owned housing units authorized for construction (this accounts for\ everything from 1-unit buildings to structures with 5 or more units). 29 Indiana construction workers died on the job that year. In 2011, there were 12,618 new privately owned housing units authorized. Less than 1/3 of the number of projects in 2005 (25,858 fewer construction projects to be exact). But were there 1/3 fewer construction site accidents resulting in death in 2011? No. 19 Indiana construction workers died on the job in 2011. If Indiana construction job sites were actually getting safer, then there should have been less than 10 construction site fatalities in 2011. Instead, there were 19. Proportionately, those numbers actually mean Indiana construction job sites were twice as deadly, not safer.
The lesson here is that you can’t look at data in a vacuum. Sure, there were fewer construction site accidents resulting in death in 2011 than there were in 2005. This does not necessarily mean that Indiana construction job sites are getting safer. It also does not mean that general contractors, sub-contractors, construction managers, or project owners are putting more emphasis on job site safety. Nor does it mean that they are focused on investing in safety and ensuring all proper safety equipment is provided or that all necessary safety precautions are being taken.
Although there are countless variables that could have been related to the tragic deaths of 19 Indiana construction workers last year, one troubling possibility is that a greater percentage of accidents are occurring on Indiana construction job sites because margins are slim as companies compete for a smaller number of jobs. Some cost-cutting measures and pressure to get the job done quickly can negatively impact the safety of the men and women who are building Indiana’s future. We all certainly hope that is not the case.
Our hope is that principled and responsible general contractors, sub-contractors, construction managers, and project owners will continue to place a high value on the safety of the men and women who build their dreams. Hoping for safer job sites is not enough though. More education, training, and safety enforcement is required. As Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner, Lori Torres, said on Monday, Indiana has much more to do in the area of workplace safety. We couldn’t agree more.
by: Jeffrey A. Hammond, Attorney