Deaths among U.S. construction workers climbed last year for the first time since before the financial crisis amid a building rebound.

On-the-job fatalities in the private construction segment rose 5 percent to 775 in 2012, from 738 a year earlier, according to preliminary U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday. Workplace fatalities fell to 4,383 overall, from 4,693 in 2011, the department said.

New-home construction climbed to a 983,000 annual pace in December 2012 and the increase in U.S. building is drawing fresh workers and some who haven’t been in the industry in years, said Ron Sokol, who conducts safety training. The rate had been below the December figure every month since 2008.

“The economy has picked up, and the sad thing about it is that the risk associated with construction fatalities has increased,” said Sokol, chief executive officer of the Safety Council of Texas City. “If people haven’t been doing it for a while, you have to get yourself back in the game. Those hazards don’t take a break.”

Many workers with the skills to build homes sought work elsewhere during the recession and haven’t returned to construction, the National Association of Home Builders said in March. A shortage of workers has slowed construction and raised costs, according to the industry group.

The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent at the end of 2012, compared with 8.5 percent a year earlier. It’s since dropped to 7.4 percent.

Falls, Homicides

Fatal injuries in the construction sector are down 37 percent from 2006, the Department of Labor said. That’s been driven in part by better safety equipment and improved practices, according to Sokol.

Transportation mishaps were the top cause of worker deaths in 2012, accounting for more than 40 percent of the fatalities, the data show. Homicides were linked to 11 percent of the deaths. Falls, slips and trips were responsible for 15 percent.

About 11 percent of workers killed in 2012 were involved in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, led by farmers. Truck transportation workers accounted for about 1 in 10 fatalities.
–Editors: Dan Kraut, Steven Crabill