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Workplace injuries continue to decrease across state

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Wisconsin’s construction industry can look back on 2015 as yet another year of declines in the number of non-fatal on-the-job injuries.

Data released on Wednesday from the State Laboratory of Hygiene suggest that there were 4.7 non-fatal illnesses and injuries for every 100 workers employed in Wisconsin’s construction industry last year. That was down from the previous year’s rate — 5.5 injuries for every 100 workers — and just barely above the rate for 2013, which was 4.6.

Rebecca Adams, program manager at the Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Safety & Health Statistics program at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, said non-fatal illnesses and injuries in the state’s construction industry have generally been trending downward ever since 2004.

The survey, for instance, recorded a rate of 9.8 instances of non-fatal illnesses and injuries for every 100 workers in 2004. The next year saw 9.3 instances for every 100 employees, and the following year only 7.7 instances.

Yet, the rate for Wisconsin’s construction industry has remained consistently higher than the rates seen in other states. In 2015 — when Wisconsin’s rate was 4.7 — the national construction industry had only 3.5 reported illnesses and injury cases for every 100 workers. The year before, the national rate was 3.6.

Adams said Wisconsin contractors should be happy to see that the difference between the Wisconsin and national rates has been narrowing during the past decade.

Even so, construction remains a relatively dangerous way to make a living.

The construction industry’s rate of non-fatal injuries and illnesses, although declining in recent years, was still worse than the average rate for all in-state employers.

The State Laboratory Hygiene’s survey, which was compiled using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, found that Wisconsin employers reported 78,800 injuries and illnesses in 2015. That resulted in a rate of 3.6 non-fatal injuries and illnesses for every 100 workers. The rate for the two previous years had been four for every 100 workers.

Industry representatives acknowledge that much still needs to be done but say they have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Dan Burazin, safety director for the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, said he wasn’t surprised to learn that workplaces have been getting safer in recent years.

He said new recruits to the industry are receiving better preparation than ever before. Much of the credit for this development, he said, belongs with technical schools and union halls, which have increased their emphasis on safety training.

In his 23 years in the industry, Burazin has been witness to a “big change” in workers’ devotion to safety. Whereas older construction workers have a tendency to simply ignore worksite dangers, younger ones are more likely to take action.

AGC of Greater Milwaukee, for its part, has three certified instructors that can provide training in topics ranging from Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations to CPR, Burazin noted.

“AGC has always been providing safety training to members,” he said. “We’re also getting help from all of our building trades partners.”

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, a group largely representing non-union shops, offers similar training opportunities.

“Safety should be a top priority for everyone in the construction industry, which is why ABC members strive to send every employee home in the same – if not better – condition than in which they arrived,” John Mielke, president of ABC of Wisconsin, said in an emailed statement. “To do this, we encourage contractors to participate in ABC’s Safety Training Evaluation Process, or STEP.”

Adams said construction injuries most commonly occur in Wisconsin when workers overexert themselves. These sorts of injuries, mostly sprains and tears, often come about when a worker tries to lift a heavy object or to complete some task involving a long reach. Injuries related to overexertion accounted for 40 percent of the non-fatal injuries and illnesses in the hygiene laboratory’s latest survey.

The second-most common cause of injury was slips and falls. A third of the recorded instances stemmed from these sorts of mishaps.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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