The History of Construction Safety is Far Too Modern

Since the beginning of time man has used tools to create and construct a living and working environment.  From the earliest of shelters made with sticks and tree branches to the largest skyscrapers in the world, man has been building. 

Unfortunately, not everything progressed smoothly throughout these undertakings: plans have failed and deadlines have been missed.  However, the single greatest tragedy in construction is not finishing over budget, but the death of a worker.  Although there has been much improvement in the world of safety in construction there is still much to be done.

One of the earliest great construction projects of the world belongs to the Chinese with their construction of the Great Wall.  The wall, expanding over 1,500 miles, was built in sections over a period of nearly 500 years dating from around 700 B.C. to nearly 200 B.C.  The latest section built occurred in a twenty year period starting in roughly 220 B.C. 

Labeled the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty, this section of wall took the lives of approximately one million workers, slave and free laborers combined.  Needless to say, safety was not a factor in constructing this wall.

Nearly two thousand years later, the French began building a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  From 1880 to the mid 1890s, the French had severely misjudged the scale of the project; roughly 20,000 construction workers perished during the construction. 

In the mid 1890s, when American companies took hold of the project, construction resumed and finally was finished almost twenty years later.  Unfortunately, another 5,000 workers died working along the canal during this time period.

A few decades later, in the 1930s, the United States began undertaking huge construction projects.  One of these first major projects was the construction of the Hoover Dam in Nevada.  This dam, which diverts the flow of the Colorado River and powers virtually everything in the surrounding area, was primarily built in a span of three years.  During this time, seventy-six workers perished. 

During this same time period on the other side of the country, New York City saw the erection of its tallest skyscraper: the Empire State Building.  Remarkably built in a span of only thirteen months, this one-hundred plus story building took the lives of fourteen workers. 

Finally, traveling back to the west coast, California saw the connection of San Francisco and Oakland over the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge.  Built from 1933 to 1937, this massive suspension bridge claimed the lives of only ten construction workers.

The history of construction is fascinating.  However, the fact that so many lives in history have been lost in the construction process is startling.  The trend has decreased steadily, thanks to OSHA and other regulations, but much can be done about the safety of workers.  Work must continue to ensure that health and safety of all construction workers around the world.