10 Deadliest Construction Projects In History


While we judge the astonishing dams, bridges, roads, etc. constructions on nothing more than their cost, viability, aesthetics, utility, etc., there’s another side that we oft forget; the price paid in terms of human lives! Major construction sites are ridden with danger, and despite all the safety procedures, the threat to life and limb is a very real one. Today, we are going to cover ten construction projects that were very deadly to their workers!

10. Willow Island Disaster – 1978

Death toll: All workers! 51

A sole incident in this project killed 51 workers, the entire workforce in one swoop! A crane failed and collapsed in the Willow Island and hit the tower which collapsed it and crushed all the workers to death.

9. Grand Coulee Dam – 1933-1942

Death toll: 80+ workers

Building dams is always a risky business, but few come closer to the human cost of Grand Coulee Dam. The project was undertaken between 1933 and 1942 on the Columbia River in the US, and this massive hydroelectric dam killed over 80 workers as they fell over during the construction.

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

8. Hoover Dam – 1931-1935

Death toll: 100 workers

Hoover Dam is an impressive structure but took the lives of over 100 people who died due to heat stroke, cardiac arrest and other accidents at work. As the risk of sounding like a sadistic, the death toll is very small given the scale of the project.

7. Aswan Dam – 1960-70

Death toll: 550 workers

The project entailed rerouting the Nile river and employed a workforce of over 30,000 workers. Over 500 people lost their lives. The dam was so large in scale that 100,000 people were relocated and many archeological sites were also lost.

6. Karakoram Highway – 1959-78

Death toll: 900 people

The Karakoram highway connects Pakistan’s capital Islamabad to Kashgar in China. The project holds the record of the highest elevation paved international road in the world and goes through the most treacherous pathways. Many people lost their lives due to landslides, and the road still poses a threat to its users.

5. Hawks Nest Tunnel – 1927

Death toll: 470 to 1000 workers

The project was to create a diversion for the New River in West Virginia, but this turned out to be no easy task as due to bad health and safety regulations, over a 1000 people died from silicosis because of mining operations.

4. United States Transcontinental Railroad – 1860’s

Death toll: Estimated to be between 1000-1500

During the mid-1800’s the US government started the railway project between Council Bluff and San Francisco. Back then, the country was ridden by slavery and illegal immigrants, so there was no real concern for the workers’ well-being. As a result, nearly 1500 workers died, although the actual numbers have been covered up.

3. White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal – 1931-1933

Death toll: 12,000 – 25,000

This 227 km long canal connects the White Sea, Russia to Lake Onega. The project employed 126,000 workers, but also led to deaths between 12,000 and 25,000. Many people died due to torture, malnutrition, and plague.

2. Panama Canal – 1880-1914

Death toll: Around 27,500  throughout all phases

The greatest marvel of the 20th century, the Panama Canal was built over several years. The project was started by the French, but they had to stop the construction in the 1800s simply due to the high death tolls resulting from fever and malaria!

You can read more about the construction of Panama Canal, a wonder of the modern world, here.


1. Burma-Siam Railway, 1942-1943

Death toll: 90,000 Civilians and 12,400 (possible 16,000) POW’s

The infamous “Death Railway” was built by the Japanese in WW2 to supply troops and weapons to Burma. Residents and prisoners of war were used in the construction, and due to the urgency and inhumane treatment, around 90,000 civilians, and 12,400 Allied POWs died. The documentary below, “Bridge over the River Kwai,” is an ignoble testimony of the struggle of the POWs during this shocking period of history.


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