Less than four months into the year, 2015 has already been a deadly one for the construction industry. There have been at least seven deaths at construction sites this year, compared with eight in all of 2014. If the current trend continues throughout the year, it will be the deadliest year for the construction industry in recent memory. This year’s fatal accidents include the two people who were recently killed in an East Village building gas explosion, a worker who died in the Meatpacking District after soil collapsed around him, a pedestrian struck down by a flying piece of plywood from a construction fence and construction workers falling down an elevator shaft and then being crushed by metal beams. Just this week, there were four other workers who were seriously injured after a wall collapsed on them during demolition work in midtown Manhattan on Madison Avenue.
In 2014, construction related deaths more than doubled from the year before. Construction accidents have increased by more than 50 percent since 2008. Despite those very significant increases , 2015 looks to be the worst year for construction safety in a long time, including a more than 300% increase in fatal accidents from 2014. In order to make sense of where we are going it is helpful to look back, back to 2008.
2008 was an interesting year in the construction industry. It marked the peak of construction in New York City at the time. There were a staggering 19 fatalities in 2008. It seemed like we would not ever approach those statistics again. Construction was down and there seemed to be a heightened appreciation for safety. What has happened since?
Fatal accidents have declined for the most part until this year. Why this is the case may be seen in data released by the Department of Buildings (DOB). In 2014, the DOB issued 142,000 building permits. This was an increase of approximately 20% from the peak building year of 2008. The number of building permits anticipated to be issued in 2015 is far greater than both years. Experts suggest that the rash of serious accidents is at least in part due to the enormous amount of construction taking place in Manhattan and city as a whole.
While education and awareness of construction-related safety practices have never been stronger, it appears that construction sites remain as dangerous as ever. Think about it this way: how would society react if seven police officers were killed in the line of duty in a little more than three months? There would be outrage and fear.
There is very little public outcry about worker safety on construction sites. That as a society is our first mistake. Generally, accidents occur when safety shortcuts are taken. Shortcuts are often used when there is pressure to finish a job. The mentality of placing people’s lives in peril so a job can be completed sooner and a greater profit generated needs to stop. People’s lives depend on it. This is another glaring issue that we need to address. Our leaders need to establish a sufficient deterrent so bosses at construction sites hesitate to put people in harm’s way unnecessarily. Should it be stop work orders? Heavy fines? Criminal prosecution? Something needs to be done and fast. It is obviously a matter of life-and-death.
Let’s hope the trend in early 2015 can be reversed.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a team of lawyers who are committed to fighting for the rights of construction workers. You can learn more about the firm and their track record of success by reviewing the firm website at www.blockotoole.com.