July 2014

Fatalities in the construction industry: findings from a revision of the BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System

Version 2.01 of the BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System enables researchers to more readily identify factors that contribute to construction industry fatalities and provide the industry with insight into developing injury prevention strategies; the revision improves on current safety and health surveillance and will have long-term effects on safety and health intervention programs and policies targeted at both the construction industry and the overall U.S. workforce.

Construction, one of the largest industries in the United States, is also one of the most dangerous. Despite a decline in overall construction injuries thanks to continual prevention and intervention efforts, workers in the industry are still at high risk.1 In 2011, the construction industry experienced 781 fatal injuries, more than any other industry in the United States.2 Accordingly, tracking construction safety and health performance is an important long-term task that will continue to provide updated and accurate information aimed at preventing injuries and illnesses in the industry.

Because of the nature of the work, occupational hazards and exposures in construction are quite different from those in other industries. For example, injuries from falls claim more than one-third of fatalities in construction, accounting for about 40 percent of all work-related fatal falls in the United States.3 As a result, detailed information on falls to a lower level is critical for preventing injuries in construction, but is less relevant to industries which are rarely exposed to hazards that may lead to such falls. Hazards and exposures also vary within construction occupations. For instance, roofers and ironworkers both have a high risk of fatal falls; however, the types of fall-related hazards that they experience on their respective jobsites may be different.4 As Joyce Northwood, Eric Sygnatur, and Janice Windau stated, “occupational injuries and illnesses require a context to be best understood.”5 Pinpointing specific causes and circumstances that characterize workplace injuries is essential for developing strategies to protect workers from injuries.

Notwithstanding the importance of information underlying falls and other severe workplace injuries, previous data available were insufficient for detailed analysis. For example, despite using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, the Bureau)—the major source for data on occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States—researchers were unable to obtain details regarding fatalities that were due to falls from roofs.6 Thus, they failed to identify risk factors for such fatalities and were thereby prevented from formulating strategies that could mitigate those factors. Similarly, questions such as “how many workers died from falls from roofs under 15 feet high?” and “how many pedestrians died from being struck by a vehicle backing up in a roadway or nonroadway area?” were repeatedly asked but remained unanswered for years.

The restructuring of the Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System (OIICS version 2.01) in 2012 has provided a research tool for those who have been longing for detailed information on occupational injuries. OIICS version 2.01 is the first such restructuring since the OIICS was initially released in 1992.7 To enhance understanding of the revised coding system, this article uses 2010 and 2011 data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) to analyze fatal injuries in construction. The 2010 data are coded in accordance with the old OIICS, and the 2011 data are coded in conformity with the new, revised OIICS.


1 The construction chart book: the U.S. construction industry and its workers, 5th ed. (Silver Spring, MD: CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, 2013).

2 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011), table A-3, “Fatal occupational injuries to private sector wage and salary workers, government workers, and self-employed workers by industry, All U.S., 2011,”

3 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011), table A-1. “Fatal occupational injuries by industry and event or exposure, all U.S., 2011,”

4 The construction chart book.

5 Joyce M. Northwood, Eric F. Sygnatur, and Janice A. Windau, “Updated BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System,” Monthly Labor Review, August 2012, pp. 19–28,

6 Tycho K. Fredericks, Osama Abudayyeh, Sang D. Choi, Mike Wiersma, and Marcia Charles, “Occupational injuries and fatalities in the roofing contracting industry,” Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, November 2005, pp. 1233–1240.

7 Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System manual (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 10, 2014), A minor update to the original OIICS manual was released in 2007. This update (referred to as OIICS 2007) entailed a few changes in code titles, some corrections, and several additions to the alphabetic indexes. OIICS 2.01 is a minor update to version 2.0, which was released in 2010.

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About the Author

Xiuwen (Sue) Dong

Xiuwen (Sue) Dong is the Data Center Director for CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, MD.

Julie A. Largay

Julie A. Largay is a research analyst at CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, MD.

Xuanwen Wang

Xuanwen Wang is a research associate at CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, MD.

Janice A. Windau

Janice A. Windau is an epidemiologist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC.