COVID-19 claimed more construction worker lives in the United States in its first year than any other cause, according to a data analysis by Silver Spring, Maryland-based CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training.

  • Based on first-of-its-kind Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the research looked at 2020’s 224,400 construction worker deaths, both on and off the jobsite and for current and retired workers.
  • The virus killed 14,900 of those aged 65 and older and 5,200 of those aged 35 to 64. Workers aged 16 to 34 largely died from other causes.
  • The CDC found that the 2020 COVID death rate was 57.3 per 100,000 construction workers aged 16-64, well above the nationwide average of 28.6. Only the food preparation and protective services sectors had higher rates.
  • 2020 — the start of the pandemic in the U.S. — was the first time that the CDC has broken out mortality data by industry. The research did not include information from Arizona, North Carolina, Rhode Island or Washington, D.C.
  • COVID was the leading “detailed” cause of death, painting a more comprehensive picture buttressed by other, broader categories.

The numbers
57.3 – Number of construction workers per 100,000 that died from COVID in 2020.
28.6 – Nationwide number of COVID deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
27,400 – Number of construction workers aged 35 and up who died from ischemic heart diseases, which can make COVID more severe.

Across the 39 major categories, certain types of heart diseases — a contributing factor to making COVID infections more severe or fatal — caused 8,700 deaths for workers 35 to 64 and 18,700 for those 65 and up.

“The primary takeaway is that many of the leading causes of death among construction workers — such as cancers, heart disease and overdoses —  may be preventable,” said Rick Rinehart, deputy director of CPWR.

Reinhart said that the data didn’t clarify if those who died were employed, seeking employment or retired, merely that their “usual” profession was listed as construction.

Beyond COVID deaths, more than half of workers aged 16 to 34 years old died as a result of an accident, CPWR found, while 67% of those 35 to 64 and 87% of those 65 and older died from natural causes.

Physical and mental strain

As much as COVID claimed lives in 2020, suicide and drugs also took a heavy toll.

Accidental poisoning by and exposure to narcotics and hallucinogens killed 1,900 workers in the youngest age bracket, the most of any cause for that group. In 2020, 14,200 workers died from overdoses and 5,500 from suicide across all age groups.

Reinhart said the new data should help to raise awareness on mental health struggles and substance abuse in the industry.

On the job, however, the main causes of death were little changed from previous years. Falls, slips and trips claimed 37% of jobsite deaths, transportation incidents claimed 27% and contact with equipment and exposure to harmful substances or environments both claimed 15%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released fatality data for 2021 in December, which showed that 2021 had similar problems on the job.

About 40% of the 986 construction worker jobsite deaths in 2021 resulted from falls, slips and trips, 22% from transportation incidents, 21% from exposure to harmful substances and 13% contact with equipment.