Article

February 2014

Fatal occupational injuries involving contractors, 2011

Before 2011, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries captured data only on the firm that directly employed the decedent. While this is useful information, the firm directly employing the decedent is not always the firm at which the decedent was working at the time of the incident, such as when the person killed was a contractor. This visual essay looks at new data on contractors, highlighting some interesting similarities and differences between these workers and those who are not contractors.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) has published data on fatal occupational injuries for the entire United States since 1992. CFOI uses multiple source documents like death certificates, media reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports, and workers' compensation reports to identify and substantiate workplace fatalities. Prior to 2011, CFOI captured data only on the firm that directly employed the decedent. While this was and continues to be useful information, the firm directly employing the decedent is not always the firm at which the decedent was working at the time of the incident if the decedent was a contractor. As a result, an important aspect of the incident is missed when data on the contracting entity are not captured.

Consider the following example: a security guard directly employed by a security services firm is acting as a bouncer for a nightclub. The decedent is killed by an unruly patron. From 1992 to 2010, CFOI would only capture the firm directly employing the decedent, in this case the security services firm. In doing so, an important facet of the incident, namely that the decedent was working at a nightclub at the time of the incident, is not conveyed in the industry data published by CFOI.

Starting in 2011, CFOI began capturing both the firm directly employing the decedent (i.e., the security services firm) and the firm that contracted the decedent (i.e., the nightclub that hired the security company). This new data element provides another dimension for safety and health experts to use as they determine the optimal way to direct resources to eliminate workplace fatalities. Because CFOI is a federal‑state program, the CFOI definition of a contractor needed to be based on information that the states could readily obtain, and the definition needed to be comprehensive enough to cover the myriad circumstances under which workplace fatalities occur. This article highlights some interesting aspects of these new contractor data.

Who is a contractor?

When crafting a definition for what constitutes a contractor, CFOI reached out to public and private institutions for input. By synthesizing information from multiple stakeholders, CFOI has created the following definition: a contractor is a worker employed by one firm but working at the behest of another firm that exercises overall responsibility for the operations at the site where the decedent was killed.

In order to establish a contractor relationship, a business-to-business relationship must exist. A worker contracted by a private individual or household is not considered a contractor in CFOI. In addition, workers killed in incidents in which the prospective contracting firm does not exercise overall responsibility for the operations at the site, such as a public roadway, are not considered contractors in CFOI.

The following examples illustrate cases in which the worker would and would not be considered contractors under the CFOI definition:

  • An electrician was working in a bookstore fixing a malfunctioning light fixture. The decedent contacted a live wire and was electrocuted. The worker would be considered a contractor; unless the bookstore employed its own electrician, the bookstore would have contracted an electrician.
  • An electrician was working at a private residence fixing a malfunctioning light fixture. The decedent contacted a live wire and was electrocuted. In this case, the electrician is not considered a contractor. Since the relationship here is between a private citizen and the electrician, the requisite business-to-business relationship does not exist.
  • A window washer was working at an 11-story condominium. She fell 80 feet from a mobile scaffold and died from head, neck, and internal injuries. This worker is considered a contractor; unless the condominium employed its own window washer, it would have contracted the services of a window-washing firm.
  • A security guard for a private security firm was a passenger in an armored car that was transporting money for a bank. The armored car left the highway, struck a tree, and overturned, killing the security guard. The guard is not considered a contractor. This incident occurred on a public roadway. The security firm did not exercise overall responsibility for the operations at the site of the incident (highway), so the security guard is not defined as a contractor in this case.
  • A self-employed brick mason was subcontracted by a general residential construction firm to do some masonry work on the exterior of a residence under construction. The decedent was struck by a bulldozer. The worker is considered a contractor. The general residential construction firm would exercise overall responsibility for the operations at this residential construction site and would, thus, be the contracting entity.
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