Statewide construction fatalities rising despite declines in NYC — Union-oriented report

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Construction fatality rates are declining in New York City (NYC), even as overall state fatality rates are increasing, says the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) in its latest construction fatality report, Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State.

The NYCOSH report asserts that employers routinely violate legal regulations with impunity, resulting in a environment “highly dangerous for workers, with high fatality numbers and high rates of fatalities state wide.”

NYCOSH says it is a membership organization of workers, unions, community-based organizations, workers’ rights activists, and health and safety professionals.

“In 2017, the most recent data year available, 69 construction workers died in New York State, exemplifying a five-year trend of increasing fatalities in the state. New York State’s construction fatality rate has increased by 39 percent in the past five years,” the researchers reported.

However, the report says NYC construction fatalities continued to drop in 2017, with the rate trending downwards. In the city, 20 workers died in 2017, and over the past five years, the city’s occupational injury rate in construction decreased by 23 percent. “Therefore, this indicates that fluctuations in the number of construction projects in New York City does not correlate to the decreasing number of fatalities, as construction is booming yet fatalities are falling.”

Fatal falls continue to be the top cause of construction fatalities both state-wide and within NYC. In all of New York State in the past 10 years, 187 workers died in falls, which account for 49 percent of all construction fatalities. In NYC alone, over the past 10 years, 78 workers died due to falls, which on average accounted for 46 percent of all construction deaths and 55 percent of construction deaths in 2017.

OSHA construction fines for fatality cases remain low. The average fine amount by OSHA in 2017 cases involving the death of a construction worker was just $21,644. Maximum allowable OSHA fine amounts increased by 78 percent on Aug. 1, 2016, the first increase in 26 years; but this increased allowable fine amount has not led to increases in actual fines against employers.

The report says non-union job sites are especially dangerous for workers. NYCOSH analyzed OSHA’s 30 investigated construction fatality citations in calendar year 2017 and found that in New York State, 86.7 percent of workers who died on private worksites were non-union. In NYC, 92.9 percent of the 2017 construction workers who died on private worksites were non-union. In New York State, federal OSHA only inspects worker fatalities on private worksites.

NYCOSH’s recommendations include:

  • Preserve New York’s Scaffold Safety Law;
  • pass Carlos’ Law to increase penalties against criminal contractors;
  • expand criminal prosecutions of contractors statewide;
  • use existing city power to suspend or revoke licenses and construction permits for criminal contractors;
  • increase the role of New York State in protecting construction worker safety given OSHA’s inadequacies;
  • increase funding to the NYC Department of Buildings;
  • mandate subsidy procurement reform and responsible contracting in New York State and NYC; and
  • Protect Latino and immigrant workers proactively.


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