October 30, 2017

New York City Construction Workers at Increased Risk for Injury and Death

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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According to a recent CBS news report, construction accidents and deaths are on the rise in New York City. “The number of construction workers and the frequency of fatalities has skyrocketed,” says one public advocate seeking to have regulators crack down. Between 2011-2015, construction accidents and deaths jumped 240 percent. That was before the recent spate of accidents.

For instance, on June 20, 2017, three workers were loading construction materials onto a roof in Queens when the roof collapsed underneath them. Two of the workers were removed from the rubble more or less immediately, but a third was buried and had to be extricated by firefighters. All three workers were taken to hospitals in critical condition. Subsequent FDNY investigation revealed that a crane operator had accidentally dropped a bundle onto the building’s top floor.

QNS.com reported that the City suspended the contractor’s license as a result of this accident. Ideal Builders and Construction had been cited for 14 public safety violations in the past two years. The City also found that Fazal Hassan, the construction superintendent, was working on over 10 buildings simultaneously, although city law forbids superintendents to oversee more than 10 jobs at the same time. The City ruled that the company and its superintendent posed “an unacceptable risk to workers and the public.”

Advocates for workers, particularly immigrant workers, say that safety too often takes a back seat to the work itself and some contractors view workers as expendable. Advocates claim that workers not only are not always given harnesses, but also are not properly trained. While workers are pressured to get safety training cards, these cards are openly sold on the black market.

Subsequent accidents

As reported by Channel 4 news, a 22-year-old construction worker died in Manhattan on August 18, 2017, after falling down an elevator shaft. Channel 7 Eyewitness News reported that September 21, 2017, was an especially deadly day for construction workers. First a 44-year-old father of five fell to his death from the 29th floor to a first floor scaffolding area at a construction site in Lower Manhattan. Only hours later, two construction workers fell from a bucket lift three stories off the ground in Manhattan. One was killed and the other critically injured. The building had previously been cited for failure to certify a correction of a class 1 violation and had been the scene of at least two other accidents since February.

Construction safety bill

In a strange coincidence, September 21 was also the day when the New York City Council voted to approve a new bill calling for workers to receive a minimum of 40 hours of safety training, with the possibility of receiving up to 59 hours of such training. As reported by TheRealDeal.com, the vote came after months of sparring between union and nonunion groups, with the real estate industry claiming that the bill will paralyze NYC construction.

There have been over 40 construction site deaths in New York City from 2015 through September 2017. Consequently, addressing construction dangers is urgent. The new bill requires construction workers to complete a 40-hour training course by December of next year. This deadline can be extended to September 2020 if the Department of Buildings determines that there are too few training facilities available to meet the original deadline.

The number of hours will be broken up as follows:

  • 10 hours of training by March 2018 in the equivalent of OSHA 10, a 10-hour course sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • 30 hours of additional training
  • 10-25 hours of further training as determined by the Department of Buildings, at least eight hours of which will pertain to the dangers of workers and objects falling at construction sites

Workers who have completed a 100-hour training course in the past five years are exempt from the mandates of the new bill. Such courses are often offered through apprenticeship programs.

Critics of the bill say it could be difficult for minority construction workers to meet the new requirements. Although the bill includes some incentives for developers to pay for the training, contractors are left to shoulder some of the costs. Advocates such as Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, counter that if the Real Estate Board of New York is so concerned about who pays for the training, they should pay for it themselves since “obviously they have the resources.”