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Featured Article: What Can We Learn from the Construction Industry’s Safety Study?

The Associated General Contractors of America recently published a study on preventing fatalities in the construction industry.  Because of the recent email from Frank Walker, MARMC Safety Director, safety in ship repair was on my mind.  One statement in the AGC study – that  “true benchmarking” means “potentially looking outside of the construction industry” can apply equally to the ship repair industry.  While the industries have different working environments, there are common characteristics and common risks, such as slip and falls.  Perhaps the AGC’s study of fatalities in construction can benefit VSRA members in increasing the safety of their employees.

I was not able to find any recent, similar study for the ship repair industry.  Below are some of the insights and recommendations from the study that I thought may be of interest.  While the statistics from the study may not apply to the ship repair industry, it would be interesting to know if they do or where they differ.  The recommendations, however, should have practical application in the ship repair and other industries.  You can access the AGC’s study at https://www.agc.org/industry-priorities/safety-health/construction-fatalities-study-0

Insights From the Study

  • Most fatalities occurred between 10 AM and 3 PM, with a peak at noon
  • Small companies (less than 10 employees) counted for nearly half of the fatalities and had the highest fatality rates
  • States in the South (which includes VA) had the highest percentage of fatalities and the highest fatality rates
  • Most fatalities occurred Monday-Thursday and decreased on Friday and weekends
  • Workers 35-54 years of age accounted for half of the fatalities, and the rate of fatalities steadily increased after age 35

Recommendations in the Study


  • Prime Contractors should work with subcontractors to ensure safety policies and procedures are in place and enforced. 
  • Prime contractors should “consider transferring culture policies and procedures to smaller companies.”

Don’t rely on a once a year training or the subcontract requirements to follow safety law and certify safety programs.  Contractors often require insurance certificates before a subcontractor can start work – ask for the safety policy and training as well.  The best insurance is prevention, after all. Prime contractors can take proactive measures and verify the safety program, and make sure their subcontracts allow monitoring the subcontractor’s safety practices (then do it!). 


  • Share relevant, specific data with employees and subcontractors during safety training.
  • Encourage attendees to share what they believe are causes of particular risks.  Create a dialogue about safety. 
  • Schedule training to coincide with periods of greater risk. 
  • Emphasize that more experience does not necessarily equal decrease in risk.

The AGC study found fatalities in the construction industry peaked in summer months and in the middle of the day.  The study suggested moving a training session to late spring and scheduling additional “toolbox talks” at noon to create higher awareness when it is needed most.  The study recommended that company should share with their employees and subcontractors the information from the study about the peak times, locations, and activities, during which fatalities occurred and the types of employees and subcontractors that were experiencing the greatest rate of fatalities.

Your company data

  • Compare company data against national and regional statistics and “explore how and why” their results are similar or different
  • “Drill down” and track causes of all incidents and near misses that could have resulted in a fatality.

Best practices

  • “Explore and identify” the best practices associated with larger businesses that can be adapted to smaller ones.
  • Minimize workers exposure to potential risks by focusing efforts on “prevention through design” of the work and the means and methods of performance. 

Falls in the construction industry account for the majority of fatalities.  This is despite the industries’ campaign to prevent falls.  The AGC study suggests that construction contractors should design the work so that workers are separated from that possibility that a fall can occur.  While many would suggest this is already done, it is best practice to use an iterative approach to safety– revisit designs, means and methods periodically to test whether there is a potential danger, rather than waiting for actual near misses or accidents. 

About the Author

Dawn L. Merkle is a partner in the Government Contracts Practice Group at Willcox & Savage. She has more than ten years’ experience representing contractors in all aspects of government contracting at the state and federal level and has served as in-house counsel to a national civil construction contractor.   She can be reached at dmerkle@wilsav.com or 757-628-5606.  http://willcoxandsavage.com/attorneys/view/dawn-l.-merkle#  


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