The Fatal Four Construction Accidents

The Common Causes of Death on Construction Projects

Hard hat laying on the ground

According to statistics collected by OSHA and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost two-thirds of all fatalities on American construction sites are caused by four specific types of accidents. Known in the industry as the “fatal four,” these include falls from heights, electrocutions, “caught-between” accidents and being hit by falling or flying objects. Falls from heights alone account for more than a third of all construction-related deaths (36%).

The OSHA study, completed in 2015, documented 874 fatalities across the United States arising out of construction site mishaps. 349 of those deaths involved workers who fell off roofs, upper levels of construction projects or construction equipment, including ladders, scaffolding, cranes, buckets and cherry pickers. The study found that the most common citations issued to owners, general contractors and others involved:

  • A failure to properly maintain or use ladders or scaffolding
  • A failure to ensure that proper rails, barriers or other fall protection was properly installed or erected on a jobsite
  • A failure to erect or oversee assembly of scaffolding

In the study, a nearly equal number of construction workers were killed by falling objects (73) and by electrocution (74). The accidents involving exposure to electrical current included instances where workers touched unprotected live wires or where came into contact with overhead power lines. Among the most frequent OSHA violations related to electrical infractions were substandard wiring methods, substandard components, and improper use of equipment.

The falling objects that caused death on construction sites included tools, building materials, trash and debris, and construction equipment.

The final category—caught-between accidents, saw 12 fatalities in 2015. Those accidents involved workers who were crushed between heavy equipment and some other object.

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