Report: Shipbuilding Getting Safer

Monday, February 12, 2007
Building ships long has ranked as one of the more dangerous industrial jobs, according to a report in the Daily Press. There's just something about cutting and bending steel, welding thousands of parts, hooking up electrical systems, crawling through tight spaces and working on small platforms hundreds of feet in the air that carries risk.

The job is still hazardous, but it's getting safer. Over the last 14 years, the shipbuilding and ship repair industry has seen its rate of recordable injuries and illnesses — cases that require medical care beyond first aid — fall sharply.

In 1992, there were 37.8 on-the-job injuries and illnesses per 100 shipbuilding workers, Labor Department figures show. By 2005, that figure had dropped to 10.9 cases per 100 workers, a reduction of 71 percent. The industry was the third-most dangerous in 1994. It's the 24th-most perilous today. Northrop Grumman Newport News, the country's largest shipyard and a maker and repairer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, has helped drive that reduction. The yard's rates fell 62 percent over the same stretch, from 21.9 cases per 100 workers in 1992 to 8.28 cases per 100 employees in 2005.

The shipyard, which accounts for a fifth of the private shipbuilding industry's work force, has seen fewer cases than the industry average in each of those 14 years. If the yard were removed from the national rates, those rates would be higher and the difference between the yard and industry greater, pointed out Jim Thornton, the shipyard's director of environmental health and safety.

Shipbuilding is still a dangerous job, with national injury and illness rates more than double the average workplace. A typical U.S. workplace encountered 4.6 injuries per 100 employees in 2005, down 45 percent from the 8.4 in 1994. Source: Daily Press

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