Assessment of mortality in the construction industry in the United States, 1984-1986

Am J Ind Med. 1995 Jul;28(1):49-70. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700280105.


Construction, one of the larger industries in the United States, employs 7.6 million workers, many in skilled trades occupations. Previously published data about potential worksite exposures and mortality of construction site workers are limited. We analyzed occupation and industry codes on death certificates from 19 U.S. states to evaluate mortality risks among men and women usually employed in construction occupations. Proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs) for cancer and several other chronic diseases were significantly elevated among 61,682 white male construction workers who died between 1984 and 1986. Men younger than age 65, who were probably still employed immediately prior to death, had significantly elevated PMRs for cancer, asbestos-related diseases, mental disorders, alcohol-related disease, digestive diseases, falls, poisonings, traumatic fatalities that are usually work-related, and homicides. Elevated PMRs for many of the same causes were observed to a lesser degree for black men and white women whose usual industry was construction. In addition, women experienced excess cancer of the connective tissue and suicide mortality. Various skilled construction trades had elevated PMRs for specific sites, such as bone cancer and melanoma in brickmasons, stomach cancer in roofers and brickmasons, kidney and bone cancer in concrete/terrazzo finishers, nasal cancer in plumbers, pulmonary tuberculosis in laborers, scrotal cancer and aplastic anemia in electricians, acute myeloid leukemia in boilermakers, rectal cancer and multiple sclerosis in electrical power installers, and lung cancer in structural metal workers. Using a standard population of blue collar workers did not result in fewer elevated PMRs for construction workers. Despite lifestyle differences and other limitations of the study, the large numbers of excess deaths observed in this study indicate the need for preventive action for construction workers.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / mortality*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asbestosis / epidemiology
  • Black or African American
  • Cause of Death
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Death Certificates
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupations*
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Population Surveillance
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Silicosis / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People