Within a week of a deadly crane accident, a tragedy which was widely covered by the local and national media, a story that captured the attention of all New Yorkers, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced sweeping changes to the rules and regulations concerning the use of cranes in the city. The rules included:
- Quadrupling the penalties for serious safety violations
- Requiring more intense supervision at construction sites while substantially increasing the fines for failing to do so
- Initiating an aggressive inspection protocol for all construction sites
Many cheered the changes, citing them as long-overdue. Others challenged them, arguing that wholesale changes which are implemented in reaction to a tragedy rarely provide long-term solutions. Opponents accused him of using the fatal accident for his own political gain. Were these changes motivated solely by this fatal Crane accident? There are statistics that suggest otherwise.
New York City continues its epic building boom. Construction is still soaring in the city, increasing by 329% since 2009. 329%!!!
Common sense would dictate that the increase in construction would lead to an increase in construction site injuries, including fatal accidents. The numbers support this theory. In the last 6 years construction site accidents leading to injury or death have increased by 90%. Studies by various media outlets charged that safety protocols were not adhered to in all of the accidents that resulted in the death of a worker. The New York Times conducted an investigation and wrote a revealing piece which additionally concluded that immigrants represented a disproportionate percentage of the workers who were killed on New York City construction sites.
Some may say that an increase of 90% in the total number of accidents does not sound so severe when you examine it in conjunction with an increase of 329% in construction work. This is a fair point. Still, however, when people are dying and a reason for that is that construction sites are not following appropriate, sound safety measures and we are failing as a society if we don’t take action. Further, if a segment of our population is being placed in disproportionate peril then we need to examine why and take steps to prevent this from continuing.
Mayor de Blasio is not alone in his reaction to this problem. Local District Attorneys are also focusing on the construction industry in a way that is unique from past law enforcement scrutiny. Previously crime fighters devoted their attention to bid rigging, organized crime and public corruption as they applied to the construction industry. Now, prosecutors are focusing on accidents and whether criminal charges are warranted under circumstances where innocent workers were not provided a safe place to do their job. The Manhattan District Attorney has launched a new task force with a goal of rooting out habitual safety violators. The Manhattan DA recently unveiled an indictment against a number of people involved in a fatal lower Eastside explosion. The Brooklyn District Attorney has also begun targeting unscrupulous contractors who have financially taken advantage of innocent hard-working women and men, stealing money from them that the workers honestly earned. Grand juries in several local jurisdictions are currently evaluating criminal charges against different individuals and companies in the construction field.
This isn’t New York City’s 20th Century Construction World. Things are changing and knives are sharpening.
The message is becoming quite apparent: there is a laser focus on the construction industry like never before. It no longer is just the uphill battle being fought by understaffed agencies like OSHA or The Department of Buildings. The mayor and the local district attorneys appear like they are ready to make worker safety a priority.
Will the Mayor’s proposed changes make an impact?
Does the apparent commitment by law enforcement to pay close attention to worker safety change how construction sites are managed?
These are questions that we will be paying close attention to as we continue moving forward in 2016. Check back in with Block O’Toole & Murphy as we continue to follow any and all developments in this area.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm that is committed to representing injured construction workers. We also are committed to reducing the number of construction accidents and victims here in New York. You may learn more about the firm success stories, including nearly $1 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements for our clients, and the talented lawyers at the firm by reviewing our website. We are also free for a no fee consultation and you can call us any time at 212-736-5300.