There has been a shocking increase in construction worker deaths in New York City in recent months. Not surprisingly, the number of non-fatal worker injuries has also grown in fiscal year2014-2015.
The Department of Buildings reported that construction injuries grew by 34 percent in the year that ended on June 30, from 211 in fiscal year 2013-2014 to 283 in 2014-2015.
The construction boom underway in New York City has taken much of the blame for this tragic state of affairs. But is the boom really to blame? Not according to the Department of Buildings, which released the following statement along with its report:
“There is no excuse for site managers to not ensure they are operating in code compliance and protecting the public at all times as they are required to do by law. The department will pursue disciplinary actions, and refer for criminal prosecution where necessary, professionals that intentionally abuse the construction code.”
Jumaane Williams, chair of the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, said, “What’s frustrating to me is that some of the accidents are similar, and we should be learning from the mistakes and ensuring that companies that do business with New York City are putting safety first. I think people are trying to cut corners.” He added, “We have to get the tools so that we can demand that safety come first – not money.” He has said that the city should not be doing business with companies with a history of repeat violations.
Union officials have weighed in as well. A worker fell down an elevator shaft to his death at a nonunion construction site on Ninth Avenue. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council said, “The reality is nonunion developers simply put their bottom line ahead of the safety of their workers, and this must end before we see even more senseless accidents and fatalities.”
The Department of Buildings is taking steps to try to stop the disturbing trend of injuries and deaths. It is hiring close to 100 more inspectors and developing ways to strengthen penalties for companies that flout safety requirements. It has also enacted a new construction code with stronger safety requirements.
Whether this will work remains to be seen. However, it is almost certainly wrong to blame deaths and fatalities on a boom in construction. The construction companies that seek to profit from that boom are the guilty parties.