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KNOXVILLE — The number of fatal accidents and deaths at the nation-s construction sites has dropped, but falls remain the leading cause of death, a University of Tennessee study shows.

The Construction Industry Research and Policy Center in UT-s College of Business Administration analyzed 663 deaths from 637 fatal accidents at federally inspected construction sites in 2000, the latest year of available data.

Dr. William Schriver, center director, said the totals dropped from 722 deaths and 705 fatal events in 1999.

“The trend for fatal construction accidents has been down for a decade,” Schriver said. “We hope data from our studies can be used to keep it moving in that direction.”

Dr. Hal Deatherage and Dr. Bill Schriver, UT Construction Industry Research and Policy Center

The fatality cause that dropped most in 2000 was non-operators crushed by construction equipment, which decreased from 65 deaths in 1999 to 34 in 2000. The number of construction workers hit by highway vehicles also dropped sharply, from 43 deaths to 27.

The leading cause of death — falls from or through roofs — claimed 75 lives in 2000, as it did in 1999. Falls from other structures were second, killing 57 people, also the same as 1999.

Thirty-seven workers were hit or crushed while operating construction equipment. The same number died from failure or faulty operation of lifting equipment. Both totals were slightly less than 1999.

Deaths from trench collapses rose more than any other cause, from 29 fatalities in 1999 to 43 in 2000. Electric shocks from equipment touching a power source also killed 43 people, up slightly from 1999.

UT has tracked U.S. construction fatalities since 1991, Schriver said. Leading causes of construction deaths have changed little since then, but the rate of fatal events per 100,000 construction employees has dropped from 13.1 to about 9.5 in 2000, he said.

Pipe layers face the highest death risk, with a fatality rate of 63 per 100,000 workers, followed by roofers at a rate of 42 per 100,000, Schriver said. “Roofers are about five times more likely to be killed on the job than all other construction workers,” Schriver said. “Pipe layers, the people in the trenches, are about seven times more likely to be killed.

“These are two of the most dangerous trades in the business.”