Sadly, despite efforts to regulate the industry, builders have found it more cost effective to pay fines than to employ safety measures. This has resulted in a history of preventable fatalities on construction sites that is heartbreaking. We learn in school about these great achievements, but little is told of the collateral damage to workers, as a result of an intentional disregard for safety. This trend continues as construction projects continue to ignore safety protocols putting their workers at risk for fatal construction accidents. Until there are criminal penalties imposed on builders, this trend is likely to continue. The history of construction accidents is marred by a lack of concern for worker safety.
Construction work is dangerous, but construction business developers could improve safety measures for their workers. The problem is that safety is expensive. Interestingly, skyscraper projects have the lowest rate of fatalities, possibly because of their high profile status. There have been just over 80 deaths caused by skyscraper construction. Bridges are the next lowest, with just over 90, probably for the same reason. Canal construction has had the highest rate of fatalities in the history of fatal construction accidents. In just four projects, there were over 160,000 deaths! The building of the Panama Canal was by far the deadliest in history with more than 400 death for every thousand workers, that’s a total of over 30,000 fatalities. Other astounding fatality rates include The Quatar World Cup construction project where 4,000 of the 5,300 workers died! Deaths from the construction of the Erie Canal were from many causes including, disease drowning, collapses and the use of gunpowder without proper precautions.
When inmates were used as labor, safety precautions were even laxer. Unofficial reports show that are many as 25,000 of construction workers lost their lives during the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal Project, using inmate labor. Many of the deaths were due to exposure, physical exhaustion and starvation. The Suez Canal was the cause of over 120,000 among it’s million and a half workers. It stands to reason that the worst atrocities occurred with projects sponsored by governments that had no worker safety legislation. Even when legislation was on the books, the fines were often very low, so it was more cost effective to pay the fines than to provided safer conditions. Remarkably, the construction of the Chrysler Building did not result in any deaths at all. The employment of guard rails and safety screen kept the toll at one worker for the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It could be that the high profile nature of these projects in developed countries was an incentive for the use and enforcement of safety protocols. The history of construction accidents shows how increasing safery protocols saves lives. There were five deaths during the construction of the Empire State Building and sixty fatalities from construction accidents building the World Trade Center.
Less prominent projects such as the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in West Virginia resulted in 764 immediate deaths, and many others later on as workers became ill with the silicosis, a lung disease in the years following construction. Railroad construction was arguably the most dangerous, with over 100,000 fatalities in only two projects, The Burma Siam Railway with over 100,000 deaths, giving the railway the moniker “Death Railway.” Dam projects did not tend to have as high a toll. The fatalities from construction accidents were over 500 for the Aswan Dam and less than 100 for the Hoover Dam. Bridge construction has tended to be safer for workers than other types of construction. The Brooklyn Bridge had the highest construction accident toll with less than 30 fatalities. In the modern era and emphasis on safety has sometimes kept the construction accident fatality toll very low. The Chief Engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge made safety a primary objective, and spent over $100,000 on safety nets. It was also the very first project in the United States to require the use of hard hats.
It is so clear that legislation and commitment to safety can drastically reduce the rate of injury and fatality from construction accidents. We must keep our government officials in check by letting them know that the safety of workers is something we care about. The history of construction accidents speaks for itself. If you or somebody you know has been a victim of a construction accident
, we can help you. Please contact Wittenstein & Wittenstein at 718-261-8114.