On-the-job deaths drop but construction safety remains a concern

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Workplace deaths declined last year to 38 in the state, a decrease from 43 in 2016, according to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).

Fifteen of the 38 fatalities last year were fall-related, many in the construction industry.

Among them, according to MIOSHA:

  • In Holland, a 38-year-old laborer died in a fall from the second level of a facility when it collapsed.
  • In Ludington, a 25-year-old roofer was installing materials on a steep pitched residential roof when he fell about 15 feet.  He wasn’t wearing protective equipment.
  • In Clinton Township, a 39-year-old carpenter fell from the roof of a new home and landed on a concrete surface. 
  • In Plymouth, a 66-year-old roofer fell about 25 feet from an unguarded roof to the ground.

According to MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman, fall-related on-the-job deaths dropped to 15 last year, compared with 22 in 2016.

In February 2017, MIOSHA launched a “Stop Falls, Save Lives” campaign. It offers free safety training to high-hazard industries such as construction and tree-trimming companies.

Pickelman said one of the most effective ways employers can protect their workers at construction sites is to establish a safety and health management system.

A system is a set of uniquely designed safety and health program pieces that interact for each organization and is “an employer’s best defense against a workplace fatality, injuries and illnesses,” he said.

After falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and “caught-in-between” accidents such as cave-ins and having body parts pulled into unguarded machinery are the three leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Related work experience is not required for laborers who want a basic job in the construction industry, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives in the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Only short-term on-the-job training is required.

Michigan’s shortage of skilled labor is a big concern the construction industry faces, and that means there may be less time to properly train new hires about safety, experts say.

Steph Schlinker, a communications specialist at the Michigan Talent Investment Agency, said, part of the reason for the shortage might be the recent push for all students to attend post-secondary education and training after high school.

“Many middle and high school students watched their parents, grandparents and neighbors lose their jobs in manufacturing, construction and other skilled trades fields during the recession and were pushed to a college track,” she said.

“The economy in Michigan has come back and work is being done and projects are being filled again, but during those years, no one was entering the construction fields,” she said.

Jason Griffin, the director of education at the Construction Association of Michigan, said a large part of the industry doesn’t have dedicated internal resources to train their workers, since about 80 percent of employers in construction have too few employees.

“Generally, lack of training and hazard recognition are primary underlying causes of workplace fatalities,” he said.

Education and training programs are available for both employers and workers to reduce the possibility of workplace accidents.

Schlinker said many construction occupations have apprenticeship programs, which can last anywhere from 2 to 6 years, depending on the occupation.

“A registered apprenticeship program will have both on-the-job training and related technical instruction components, sometimes provided by a local community college,” Schlinker said. “The participant is hired with the company and serves as an employee throughout their apprenticeship program.”

Griffin said making sure that people in the industry are aware of what’s going on is a priority to protect them from workplace hazards since many are unaware of the job safety rules they need to obey.

He said that most construction sites have multiple companies working together.

“Typically, you have a controlling contractor and a construction manager, who are responsible for overseeing the overall safe mission at the work site,” Griffin said.

“They are contractually trying to manage safety and push it down to their subcontractors that may or may not have sufficient experience to be able to effectively control what you do in the work site,” he said.