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Does Economic Boom = More Construction Accidents?

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The seeming epidemic of fatal construction accidents in recent months suggests that 2015 is going to be one of the most dangerous for construction workers. What’s going on?

It looks like the New York City construction boom has a downside – more accidents. According to a recent New York Times story, there have been as many fatal construction accidents in 2015 than in all of 2014. In fact, there have not been as many deaths in the construction industry since 2008, before the economic downturn.

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) says that there have been eight fatal accidents in the construction industry so far this year. In addition, the number of non-fatal accidents has also increased, up 24 percent between 2013 and 2014 (numbers for 2015 are not yet available).

Experts point to at least three reasons for the growth in the number of accidents. More construction activity equals more jobs. Having more jobs means that:

  • Contractors hire more inexperienced and untrained workers
  • If they don’t hire more workers, contractors demand more of existing workers, creating unsafe conditions

In addition, it is well-known that contractors cut corners to meet deadlines and underbid on jobs.

To correct the situation, the mayor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes an increase for the DOB, one of the few areas of increased spending. The 29 percent increase is the largest for any department.

According to the president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, Louis J. Coletti, union contractors have the best training and safety records for workers in the building trades. Mr. Coletti pointed to the year 2012, when six of the eight fatalities in the NYC construction industry took place in non-union shops. He also pointed out that construction is the second-most dangerous job, surpassed only by coal mining.

Fatal construction accidents in this fiscal year include a Lower East Side worker who fell from a ladder, scaffolding falls, a construction fence fatality, building collapses and other events that occur when proper safety precautions are not taken.

Whether safety can be improved soon enough to slow the incidence of construction fatalities this year remains to be seen.