Construction industry working safer

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Published: October 23,2009

Tags: construction, workplace safety

The likelihood of a construction worker being injured on the job is significantly lower than 10 years ago.

According to an analysis of federal safety data released in August, the national construction fatality rate declined 47 percent and recordable safety incidents dropped 38 percent since the federal government switched to a safety oversight approach in 1998.

Known as “collaborative safety,” it represents a significant shift in federal safety oversight when it was first introduced over a decade ago.

“We’ve had a considerable reduction in the injury rate in the past decade,” said Clyde Payne, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Jackson office. “There is a lot better understanding about hazards and issues in the workplace and that’s had a great affect.”

The Associated General Contractors of Mississippi (AGC) and the Jackson area OSHA office established a collaborative relationship about four years ago, AGC safety director Rachel Rutland said. It provides AGC members with information, guidance and access to training resources to help protect employees’ safety and health.

Rutland said the alliance agreement established with OSHA four years ago has paid dividends for the AGC of Mississippi membership and the state’s construction industry.

“Originally, it was geared to work zones involving road construction but it’s since been extended to all types of work,” she said. “The alliance with OSHA has helped us a lot – Clyde Payne and his staff have been very pro-active in working with our members and, in a lot of cases, they’ve been willing to negotiate fines down in exchange for more training.”

With the collaborative agreement in place, Payne says the federal agency is willing to work with the offending contractor after issuing a citation.

“If they’ve corrected the violation, we’ll often offer penalty reduction,” he said. “OSHA does have some flexibility with the penalty level, and in turn, we have them do some extra training.”

The federal safety report stated that there were 1.7 fatalities for every billion dollars invested in construction nationally in 1998, while today that rate is 0.9 fatalities, a 47 percent drop. Relative to the size of the construction workforce, the fatality rate dropped from 12.9 in 2000 to 9.6 fatalities per 100,000 construction workers in 2008, a 25 percent decline.

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