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KNOXVILLE — Falls remain the leading cause of fatalities at the nation-s construction sites, a University of Tennessee study shows.

Researchers at the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center in UT-s College of Business Administration analyzed the causes of the 705 federally-inspected construction accidents occurring in 1999, the latest data available.

The study found that falls from or through roofs were the most common cause of construction deaths, accounting for 75 or 10.6 percent of total fatal events.

Other findings included:
— 65 fatal events occurred when people were run over by construction equipment they were not operating, causing 9.2 percent of fatal accidents.
— 57 fatal accidents involved falls from structures other than the roof (8.1 percent).
— 43 fatal accidents involved persons hit by a highway vehicle (6.1 percent).
— 41 fatal accidents involved those hit or crushed while operating construction equipment (5.8 percent).
— 38 fatal accidents resulted from failure or faulty operation of lifting equipment (5.4 percent).
— 8 fatality causes included events with multiple deaths. Fires, explosions and scaldings had the most victims killed per event, with 17 events and 23 victims or 1.35 victims per event.

Dr. William Schriver, center director, said that even when safe procedures are followed serious injury or death might result from just a moment-s loss of concentration.

Construction workers often are exposed to increased risks of serious injury or death from work in a highly hazardous workplace. Risk factors are increased because the work often is non-routine, often takes place at great heights exposed to inclement weather and around heavy, moving construction equipment often near sources of high voltage, he said.

“The construction industry is risk intensive,” Schriver said. “Contractors face large risks in estimating actual costs in their bids and more risk in being able to build the project profitably.

“Added to this is the confusion that may arise when employees of several different contractors are on the worksite at the same time. Construction workers are generally tough mentally and physically, but this can-t protect them from job hazards they face daily.”

Schriver said the number of OSHA-inspected fatal construction events caused by accidents have increased each year since 1991, primarily as a result of an increase in construction employment.

However, leading causes of construction fatalities -falls, equipment accidents and being struck by highway vehicles – have changed little in the ’90s, he said.

The study also shows that the rate of fatal events per 100,000 construction employees has dropped from 13.1 in 1991 to 11 in 1999.

However, after dropping annually from 1991-1996, the rate has slightly increased each year since 1997, Schriver said.

Schriver said a report of fatalities in the year 2000 is expected to be completed by this fall.

The study is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and could help in development of training and standards to make construction work safer, he said.

“The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces workplace safety through their safety standards for proper procedures, safety equipment and devices used in construction,” Schriver said.

“Education and training are important to their mission, and our findings could play a valuable role.-