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KNOXVILLE — Researchers from the University of Tennessee have received a new five-year contract for $7 million to investigate deaths and injuries at the nation’s construction sites and recommend ways to prevent them.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other federal agencies are funding the grants to UT’s Construction Industry Research and Policy Center.

Dr. William Schriver, who directs the center in UT’s College of Business Administration, and Dr. Hal Deatherage, UT professor of civil engineering and associate director, are co-principal investigators.

Deatherage said UT researchers would work with inspectors, contractors and other construction personnel to create a narrative description of the situation surrounding each fatality, collecting unprecedented details about accident victims’ training, instruction, health, equipment, mental state and other data.

They also will examine environmental factors such as soil, weather, the victims’ personal problems, distractions, and other clues that might contribute to accidents.

“This research will allow more accurate classification of each fatal construction event into various categories and provide the in-depth narrative information required to analyze factors contributing to the fatality,” Deatherage said.

UT’s Construction Industry Research and Policy Center has tracked U.S. construction fatalities since 1991, most recently analyzing 663 deaths from 637 fatal accidents last year at federally inspected construction sites. They found that construction fatalities have dropped, and falls remain the leading cause of death.

Deatherage and Schriver said UT will continue the annual construction fatality survey, but the new study will be much more detailed.

“We will be more like detectives at a crime scene,” Schriver said. “More than just tracking statistics, we’re going to get the whole story, analyze what actually happened and recommend ways to prevent it from happening again.”

“We’ll also be working more in real time. We will be getting accident details in days rather than a year later, while everything is fresh in their minds.”

UT’s grant from OSHA also will fund a UT survey of injury and illness information from construction projects.

“The survey will involve about 2,500 construction projects, large and small, from about 200,000 construction starts across the nation to agree voluntarily to participate in reporting to us each time and injury occurs,” Schriver said.

“It is likely there will be thousands of construction accidents, including back sprains, nail punctures, broken arms and legs, crushed fingers, shocks and burns. It will be a major undertaking.”

Schriver said the study seeks to evaluate the relative risk of each construction type and to determine if certain phases of construction are more hazardous than others.

Injury data will be collected for statistical purposes only and not for enforcement purposes with the reporting contractors. Identities of employers in this project will remain confidential, he said.

UT also recently launched an investigation into the two deadliest trades of the construction industry: pipe laying and roofing.

Pipe layers working in trenches face the highest death risk, with a fatality rate of about 60 per 100,000 workers, followed by roofers at a rate of about 40 per 100,000, Schriver said.

“Roofers are almost 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.”

Schriver said work on each of the projects has started already or will begin this fall. Initial reports and recommendations are scheduled to be released by June 2003, he said.