New York State construction deaths rise alarmingly, says union-backed report

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deadly skyline report

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) says in its latest construction fatality report, “Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State” that researchers have discovered alarming increases in New York State construction fatalities and that employers routinely violate legal regulations with impunity.

““We need to take action now to end the crisis of rising construction fatalities in New York State. These deaths are almost always preventable and could be deterred by passing sensible legislation in New York State and by protecting existing legislation, such as the Scaffold Safety Law, that protects workers,” NYCOSH executive director Charlene Obernauer said in a statement.

The union-backed NYCOSH report unveiled a number of findings and recommendations to improve worker safety in New York.

Key Findings:

  • In 2016, New York State had a 60% higher construction fatality rate than New York City (NYC). Over the past five years, the NYC fatal occupational injury rate in construction decreased by 21.3%, while the New York State rate increased by 29.5% over the same period of time.
  • Non-union job sites are especially dangerous for workers. NYCOSH analyzed OSHA’s 36 investigated construction fatality citations in 2016 and found that in New York State, 94.7% of workers who died on private worksites were non-union. In NYC, 93.8% of construction workers who died on private worksites in 2016 were non-union.
  • Falls continue to be the top cause of construction fatalities in New York State and NYCy. In all of New York State in the past ten years, 218 workers died in falls, which account for 48% of all construction fatalities. In NYC alone, over the past ten years, 101 workers died due to falls, which on average accounted for 46% of all construction deaths.
  • Enforcement agencies are drastically underfunded. NYCOSH conducted an in-depth analyses of OSHA inspections in New York State since OSHA’s founding and found a staggering decrease in inspections over the past twenty years.\
  • OSHA construction fines for fatality cases remain low. Average OSHA fines in construction fatality cases decreased by 7%, to $20,217.

NYCOSH’s recommendations include:

  • Require construction training and certification for New York State’s construction workers. Municipalities and New York State need to create rigorous training requirements for construction workers.
  • Establish funding streams for construction safety training programs in NYC. As the requirements for construction safety trainings increase, so too must the funding to provide such training, especially to ensure that low-wage immigrant workers have the opportunity to access them.
  • Preserve the Scaffold Safety Law. Given that fall-fatalities are the top cause of death on construction sites and the preventability of such deaths, this legislation must be defended.
  • Pass Carlos’ Law to ensure corporate responsibility for worker fatalities. For too long, workers’ deaths on the job have been quickly dismissed as “unfortunate accidents,” regardless of the role played by employers, contractors, and owners in contributing to their death.
  • Expand criminal prosecutions statewide. Across the state, DAs must exercise their power to hold criminal contractors accountable when the failure to protect workers rises to the level of a criminal offense.
  • Use existing city power to suspend or revoke licenses and construction permits for criminal contractors. NYC and other municipalities have broad power within their licensing and permitting processes to keep criminal contractors from operating unsafely and endangering workers and the public.

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