Recently the number of serious and fatal accidents at construction sites in New York City has increased significantly. This is according to a report by New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).
Reportedly. 20 construction workers died in 2021, compared to 13 in 2020. This is a 54% increase. The big question is, why? Why have fatal and serious construction accidents skyrocketed in New York City?
1. Negligence by project developers/contractors
We all know that construction and building projects are on the rise in New York City. This is all thanks to the rising demand for residential and commercial units and support infrastructure.
We also know that developers and contractors are in the business of making profits through the speedy completion of projects. In the process, they fail to use safety equipment and protocols that are available to them. They fail to provide workers with the proper safety equipment, proper safety tools, and the correct tools for the jobs, therefore, exposing them to accidents.
These developers and contractors also hire a cheap and inexperienced workforce, especially Latinx and immigrant workers. This is because Latinx and immigrant workers are less likely to report safety violations out of fear of retaliation. The fear has become increasingly justified as immigrant workers are targeted by federal immigration agencies.
2. Increased non-union job sites
Non-union job sites, unlike union job sites, do not have shop stewards and a trained workforce that is likely to recognize and report safety violations. In that case, employees are unable to identify any threats to their safety at the construction sites.
In addition, non-union workers do not have protection against employer retaliation therefore even if they recognized any safety violations it would be unlikely for them to report them to regulatory agencies.
3. Decreased site inspection
Inspections are one effective tool for making safer workplaces as it keeps developers on their toes. In one study by the U.S. Department of Labor, firms that were inspected more than one time experienced a reduction in citations by 50%. A decrease in inspections causes an increase in violations, ultimately leading more workers to die on the construction site.
This is exactly what is happening in New York City. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety inspections have decreased significantly. The agency conducted 2,568 inspections in 2021, an increase from 2,080 in 2020, but a 42% decrease from 2019.
4. Reduced press releases issued on egregious violators
OSHA has also reduced the number of press releases issued on egregious violators according to New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).
Press releases play the role of garnering negative media attention for employers whose wrongdoings lead to worker injuries and deaths. In addition, they serve as a warning to other employers that may be tempted to skirt legal requirements.
A review of press releases in the past five years showed that OSHA went from releasing 58 press releases in 2016 to just 13 in 2021. By so doing the agency is failing to hold bad employers accountable, especially when their recklessness causes workers to get injured on the job site.
5. Underfunding and lack of enough stuff for the relevant agencies
OSHA and the New York City Department of Buildings are the key players in ensuring the safety of construction site workers in Ney York.
However, the agencies have reportedly been underfunded and under stuffed which has made it harder for them to carry out their mandate.
6. Subsidizing projects whose developers violate health and safety guidelines
Companies that violate the law and put workers’ lives at risk in New York are not legally prevented from receiving subsidies for their projects.
For example, if workers die in a fatal fall because they were not wearing a harness, the employer would likely be fined however s/he would still be eligible to receive government subsidies for their development projects.
Preservation and enforcement of New York State’s construction safety laws are paramount to worker safety. These laws include the New York State Labor Laws 200, 240, and 241.
Other than mulcting the lawbreakers it is high time New York and New York City cut funding for their projects and probably revoke their operation licenses for putting their employees’ safety on the line knowingly.