Construction Fatalities: August Is the Deadliest Month

For many people, August is all about trying to stay cool and squeezing in one last family trip before the kids go back to school. For people in the construction industry, the month is notable for another reason: According to a study commissioned by the Associated General Contractors of America, there are more construction worker fatalities in August than in any other month.

Though construction employment peaks in August, which could explain an increase in the total number of fatalities, the percentage of fatalities goes up, too.

For the study, researchers at the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics fatality reports from 2010 to 2012.

The study doesn’t pinpoint the reasons for the rise in fatalities, but heat could be part of the equation. Of course, August is typically the hottest months of the year. Fatigue and dizziness from heat-related illness could help explain why slip-and-fall injuries peak during the summer, for example. Rooftop utilities also get hot in summer, which could help explain an increase in burns and falls from heights.

The study also came to these conclusions about year-round construction fatalities:

  • The South had more fatalities per 100,000 employees than any other region, followed by the Midwest.
  • The specialty trades had significantly more fatalities than any other sector, accounting for 56 percent of deaths.
  • Most fatalities occurred between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a peak at noon.
  • Falls remained the leading cause of deaths in construction.
  • The fatality rate for construction workers begins to increase at age 35 and peaks at 65-plus.
  • Small construction companies with nine or fewer employees had the highest fatality rates.

Ways to keep workers safer

You can’t turn down the sun in August, but you can take steps to help reduce the risk of fatalities during the summer and beyond. In addition to implementing your usual jobsite safety program, you might:

  • Remind employees to drink water, rest periodically and seek shade when necessary as part of a comprehensive heat illness prevention program
  • Consider amending your safety and health policies and procedures for different seasons. For example, require workers to wear gloves and sunglasses while working on roofs in summer.
  • Adopt a buddy system, particularly for dangerous tasks.
  • Consider scheduling additional toolbox talks or safety meetings at around noon, and particularly on Wednesdays or Thursdays (when fatalities peak).
  • Work with specialty subcontractors to make sure safety policies and procedures are in place and that they’re being enforced.
  • Explain to employees in your communications and training that gaining more experience with age does not necessarily decrease the risk of fatalities. Remind workers that everyone needs to be vigilant about safety.