The Construction Industry’s Fatal Four: 4 of the Most Common Causes of On-Site Fatalities

Year after year, the construction industry competes for the number-one slot on America’s list of deadliest jobs. Despite the industry’s best efforts, working construction will always offer its fair share of injury risks. The most common construction accidents are falls, electrocutions, being struck by a foreign object, and being caught in heavy machinery.  OSHA labeled these four accident types as the construction industry’s “fatal four” because they make up over 50% of workplace fatalities annually.

From traumatic brain injuries to chemical burns to infection-prone lacerations, the fatal four leaves thousands of permanently and temporarily disabled construction workers in its wake.

With the risk of paralysis and concussions looming over like a dark cloud, punching into work and stepping foot on a construction site can feel like a punch to the gut, as gut-wrenching anxiety pulses through the systems of on-site personnel. Fear not. With the proper preventative measures, construction workers can dodge injury-inducing disasters.


By ensuring that guardrail systems are in place, identifying hazards such as holes, wearing head-to-toe PPE, and adhering to OSHA construction standards, you can assume control over your health and well-being. If the injuries that comprise the fatal four have remained out of sight and out of mind while on-site, committing these life-altering (and potentially life-threatening) accidents to memory can serve as fuel for your safety-first mentality.

If printed brochures and posted safety flyers don’t pack enough weight behind their punch, knowing that thousands of construction workers succumb to these fatal four might be enough to snap you out of your can’t-happen-to-me mentality. If you’re guilty of flaunting a false sense of invincibility, consider these four common causes of on-site fatalities claiming the lives of many.



Falls are among the most common injury risks in the construction industry, especially for demolition workers surrounded by debris and half-collapsed building structures. Victims of demolition-related falls should contact an accident law firm like this immediately to help them ensure proper compensation during the recovery period.

Falls can happen at any type of construction site. For example, employees often fall from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds. If debris is in the way, it represents a tripping hazard and makes for a rough landing. Excavations are especially dangerous for falls because of the many pits and holes.

Most falls result from high elevations and unexpected debris. Fortunately, employers can take steps to reduce falls by implementing hazard controls.  Managers should install guard rails, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, and controlled access zones to prevent injury.

Struck by an object


The second most common cause of fatal accidents is employees being struck by falling, flying, swinging, or rolling objects. Construction sites can be noisy, chaotic environments, and it isn’t always possible to see the threat coming.

Most workplace tools have safety features, but employees have to engage them manually. For example, heavy machinery often has parking brakes and reverse vehicle alarms. Employees can also protect themselves from blunt force trauma by using protective equipment like hardhats, debris nets, and catch platforms.

Struck-by accidents often occur when objects fall out of a bucket while being hoisted to upper floors. Occasionally, accidents happen when workers lose control of the exterior walls they are hoisting together.

To avoid falling-object injuries, employees should always wear appropriate personal protective equipment, like hard hats and work boots.



The third most common fatal type of accident is electrocution. Construction workers can be killed when equipment accidentally contacts an electrical source. The accidents tend to happen because workers do not know they’re working near a live power source. Some wiring might be overhead, while others run underground.

Contractors must shut off the power before working, as construction can damage power lines. All it takes is one slip-up for a day on the job to turn into a day in the hospital burn ward, or worse. Electrocution can cause painful burns or paralysis. It can also create fire or explosion risks.

Technically, electrocution happens when someone is exposed to lethal amounts of electricity. The results of electrocution can include burns, shock, arc blasts, fire, and explosions. Electricity causes electrical burns, arc flashes, and thermal burns from the current flowing through the body. Thermal burns result from the skin making contact with electrical equipment.

When a worker goes into shock from electrocution, the electricity enters and leaves the body at different points. Arc flashes and blasts involve a large amount of electrical energy in the air. It releases thermal radiation up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit with an accompanying intense light.

Employers can reduce electrocution risks on their job sites by following OSHA-recommended safety practices. Overhead power lines should be marked and placed a safe distance above the workplace. Additionally, employees should inspect portable tools and power cords and only use power equipment according to manufacturer guidelines.



The last of the fatal four accidents involve employees who get caught between objects or machinery parts. The moving parts of heavy machinery represent a constant threat to contractors. Other fatalities occur when walls or ceilings cave in and employees become trapped between them.

Sadly, many caught-in accidents also include injuries from impacts. Often, the objects that catch the employee also strike the employee. Site managers must determine how the injury occurred before labeling it a caught-in/between or a struck-by-object accident.

These horrible accidents happen when excavators have cave-ins or when employees get pulled into heavy machinery. Clothing can get trapped in moving equipment and strangle the wearers. Construction workers can also suffer crushing by objects that roll or slide off of semi-trailers or dock walls.

Employers can protect workers by guarding and properly maintaining heavy machinery. They should also train their employees in safety protocols such as lock-out tag-out to ensure no human is ever in the vicinity of active, dangerous machinery.



On a construction site, employers and employees have to work together to prevent workplace accidents. The fatal four happen when employers fail to properly train their employees and fail to follow safety protocol. Though some accidents are unavoidable, preparation and vigilance are everything.

Because workplace accidents can be debilitating and potentially deadly, victims should contact an attorney as soon as possible. When employees die in workplace accidents, attorneys can help their surviving loved ones win wrongful death compensation.