The deaths of 15 men in West Virginia mining accidents became big news in January. These deaths were tragic but, sadly, not that unusual. People die in mining accidents on a regular basis. What made this event unusual and worthy of the barrage of media coverage? I suppose it was the horror of those 13 miners trapped down there in that awful dark place and the gut-wrenching drama of the waiting families during the eventually unsuccessful rescue effort.
But in the aftermath, as everyone talked about mine safety, I got to thinking about safety and construction. The most recent year for which I could find complete data is 2001, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 5900 workplace fatalities in the United States. Of those, only 170 were in mining, although the fatality rate for mining is the highest of all occupations at 30.0 deaths per 100,000 employed. Construction's fatality rate is quite a bit lower, at 13.3 deaths per 100,000 workers, although that still makes it the third most dangerous occupation (agriculture is second). But there are a lot more construction workers than miners, so the total number of fatalities in construction in 2001 was 1225, the most deaths by far for any occupation. One thousand two hundred and twenty-five men and women whose lives are gone. One thousand two hundred and twenty-five sad stories of children and families. If that's not drama, I don't know what is.
Nearly every day some people die on construction sites; how often do you hear about them? Every so often, but it seems to be accepted. Some will say that construction is just dangerous and there's no way to avoid a few deaths. Or that those who died were probably doing something stupid, and they'll make some sort of joke about the Darwin awards. I've been guilty myself of using photos in this magazine that show unsafe practices, with the attitude that it's simply the reality of construction sites.
The reality has to change, and we need to get serious about safety. Unsafe practices for the sake of efficiency or expediency or ignorance cannot be tolerated. Training is certainly the simplest answer, and ASCC has a terrific safety program, but what's really needed is a commitment to safety that goes beyond following every silly OSHA rule. Right here, I promise to not publish photos in this magazine of unsafe practices. Or if they slip by, I hope you will take me to task, and I will prominently publish your letters. Attention must be paid to those 1225 people who died in 2001, and even more who have died since then. If we're going to make construction a profession that our workers can be proud of, then we have to treat them as if they have put their lives in our hands—because they have.
William D. Palmer, Jr., Editor in Chief