As many as 154 construction workers throughout Australia have lost their lives at work over the past five years, the latest data shows.

And 36 construction workers were killed last year alone.

In its latest report, Safe Work Australia has provided a statistical breakdown of fatalities across the Australian workforce.

It finds that across all industries, 194 fatalities occurred in 2020 – a rate of 1.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

This was four more than the 190 workers who died in 2019 and shows that worker fatality numbers did not improve despite lower levels of activity on account of COVID.

Moreover, whilst the rate of workforce fatalities dropped from 2.7 per 100,000 workers in 2003 to 1.5 per 100,000 in 2017, the improvement in fatality rates has stalled over the past three years.

In construction specifically, the data shows that:

  • Over the five years from January 2016 until December 2020, 154 construction workers lost their lives at work. This implies a five-year average fatality rate of 2.7 per 100,000 workers.
  • Last year alone, 36 construction fatalities occurred. This was up from the 28 in 2019 and represents a fatality rate (3.1 per 100,000 workers in 2020) which exceeds the five-year average referred to above.
  • All up, construction accounted for 19 percent of all workforce fatalities in 2020 and 17 percent over the five years to 2020.
  • Based on five-year averages, construction has the fourth-highest fatality rate of any industry. Only agriculture (12.9 per 100,000 workers), transports/warehousing (7.7) and electricity/water/gas/waste (2.8) have higher death rates.
  • Of the 154 construction workers who died over the past five years, 89 were employed in construction services (building installation, building structure services, land development/site preparation and building completion) whist 46 worked in building construction (residential and non-residential building) and 19 worked in heavy and civil industry construction.
  • Older workers (age 45 plus) account for almost two-thirds of all construction fatalities. Of the 154 construction workers who died over the past five years, 45 were aged between 55 and 64 whilst 35 were aged between 45 and 54 and 15 were aged over 65.
  • Falls from height is the most common cause of construction fatality, accounting 48 of the 154 construction deaths over the five years to 2020. Other fatality mechanisms include being hit by falling objects (16 percent) vehicle incidents (16 percent) being hit by moving objects (14 percent) and contact with electricity (10 percent).
  • Of the 48 workers have died from falls at height, 14 fell from buildings and structures whilst 10 fell from ladders; 6 fell from openings in floors, walls or ceilings, 4 fell from scaffolding and 14 fell through other agencies.
  • On specific disciplines, construction and mining labourers accounted for 32 of the 154 deaths over the five years to 2020 whilst miscellaneous labourers accounted for 27 deaths. Other sub-occupation group fatalities were electricians (13); bricklayers, carpenters and joiners (12); truck drivers (10); floor finishers and painting trades workers (9); mobile plant operators (8); electronics and telecommunications trade workers (6); stationary plant operators (6); glaziers, plasters and tilers (6), plumbers (5) and other occupations (20).


Source: Work-related traumatic injury fatalities Australia 2020, Safe Work Australia


It should be noted that the aforementioned data relates only to fatalities which occur through physical workplace incidents.

It does not include workers who lose their lives through mental health problems and suicide (according to Mates in Construction, around 190 construction workers die through suicide each year).

Nor does the aforementioned data capture the emotional impact of fatalities on families, friends and colleagues.


Source: as above


Moreover, tragedies continue to happen.

Last week, 19-year-old Nathaniel Good died after being struck on the head whilst working on a residential construction site in North Coogee in WA.

Media reports suggested that Good had interacted with an object which had fallen.

Hi father, Gerrin Good, described his deceased son – a car enthusiast – as a ‘bright soul’ who ‘will be in my heart forever and a day’.



Meanwhile, some employers continue to flout safety laws.

Last Thursday, Industrial Construction Services was fined $320,000 for failing to provide a safe workplace for a teenage boy who fell twelve meters to his death whilst working at the old Perth post office building.

Wesley Ballentine, 17, was helping install a glass roof on top of the building in January 2017 when he fell through a gap where a panel was yet to be placed.

The roof had been full of trip hazards including uneven boards, cords and tools.

Whilst some gaps had been covered, with plywood panels, others had remained exposed.

Workers had also not been attached to a proper safety system while installing the 100-kilogram glass panels.

Despite being young and inexperienced, Ballentine had not been given work at heights training.