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NYC construction workers’ safety compromised by after-hour work permits

In the wake of the Great Recession, the number of new residential construction projects in New York City plummeted and remained stagnant from 2009 through 2011. Since that time, the city’s economy has rebounded and today New York City is in the midst of a building boom. However, while such signs of economic progress are encouraging, they also often come at a price.

Prior to 2009, construction workers in the city were busier than ever. However, from 2008 to 2009, the number of new residential building permits issued by the Department of Buildings fell dramatically from a record high of roughly 33,000, to less than 5,000. Consequently, many construction workers were out of work and forced to find jobs in other industries. Fast-forward to today, and construction employers are scrambling to find skilled workers and, in an effort to maximize profits, routinely cut corners when it comes to safety.

This year alone, construction spending in New York City is expected to reach a record-setting high of $41 billion. To meet growing demand, short-staffed construction companies are increasingly turning to the DOB to obtain what are known as after-hour work permits.

As the name suggests, an after-hour work permit allows work at construction sites to take place outside of the normal sanctioned hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well as any time during the weekend. The DOB grants after-hour permits for five reasons including public safety and emergency work. However, there’s little oversight with regard to verifying that a permit is really necessary; leading many to conclude that construction companies are simply trying to maximize profits by working around the clock.

For construction workers, the safety risks associated with these types of business decisions are significant. Already, an estimated 50 percent of construction projects in the city are being completed by non-union workers who are often younger and less experienced than union workers. In cases where these inexperienced workers are also working longer than normal shifts and in the dark, it’s likely only a matter of time before one or more suffer a serious or fatal injuries.

Source: The Real Deal, “The after-hours construction boom,” Kathryn Brenzel, April 1, 2016

Curbed New York, “Understand New York’s Current Building Boom in 6 Charts,” Jessica Dailey, May 8, 2016