Deaths from work-related incidents in the construction industry are on the rise, according to a recently-released report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH). The annual report, titled Deadly Skyline, reveals disturbing trends in construction workplace practices both in New York City and the wider New York State. The study clearly shows that working in construction has become more dangerous in recent years.
Here are the most shocking statistics in regards to the New York construction industry:
- The fatality rate of its workforce climbed 38.9% from 2011 to 2015.
- 464 workers died in construction-related accidents in New York State in the ten year period from 2006 to 2015.
- The New York City construction sector, which employs 3% of the city’s workforce, has the highest occupational death rate: 34% of all workplace deaths across various industries. For Los Angeles and Chicago, the rates are 32% and 24% respectively. The NYC sector with the next highest occupational fatality rate was the trade, transportation, and utilities industry, accounting for 20% of all workplace deaths.
- Work-related incidents involving deaths and injuries increased 88% from 2014 to 2015 (231 incidents in 2014 and 435 in 2015)
- The majority of sites where workers were fatally injured had violated OSHA safety standards: 80% in 2014 and over 90% in 2015
- Majority of worker deaths happened at non-union sites: 80% in 2014 and 74% in 2015
- In 2014, 68% of all construction site inspections found OSHA safety violations.
Bottom line: if these trends continue, more and more laborers will suffer workplace atrocities that result in deaths and serious injuries, most of which are preventable.
Source: New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health
Employers, especially non-union ones, are increasingly putting their workers’ lives at risk. The report points to revealing data that showed that the majority of deaths happened on sites that violate safety regulations. Most of these sites are non-union. In fact, over 93% of companies on OSHA’s “Severe Violators” list are non-union.
And yet, despite warnings, contractors continue to neglect OSHA safety standards. Take the case of Carlos Moncayo, an Ecuadorean immigrant and Queens resident, for instance. The construction worker was employed by non-union general contractor Harco Construction, which repeatedly ignored well-documented warnings of OSHA violations. On April 6, 2015, a safety inspector declared a trench unsafe and warned the foreman that no worker should go inside. The foreman failed to ensure worker safety, and moments later, Carlos Moncayo was buried alive in the trench. Tragically, he died later that day.
In the aftermath, Harco Construction was convicted of Manslaughter in the Second Degree, Criminally Negligent Homicide, and other serious charges. The most the company had to pay was a paltry $10,000 for willfully endangering workers’ lives. Harco’s site supervisor Alfonso Prestia received probation and community service while Wilmer Cueva, Harco’s foreman, was sentenced to 1-3 years of prison.
Light punishment for severe crimes.
The incident is reminiscent of another construction scandal in New York City, in which a major non-union contractor exploited minority and immigrant workers. For many years, the workers faced verbal abuse, wage theft, and unsafe work conditions under the employer.
The Deadly Skyline report also showed that Latino workers are more likely to be exploited. In 2015, 33% of the sites where Latino workers died were found to have “willful” OSHA violations versus 5% of the sites where non-Latinos died. Additionally, health violators are much more likely to be wage violators.
As a society, we have a clear moral issue on our hands. Employers cannot simply neglect safety regulations and willfully disregard human lives. Let’s not forget that the United States was once a country that permitted child labor until labor unions fought to abolish it in the early 1900s. At the time, there were no strongly-enforced laws against child labor, but organized unions and strikes brought about the necessary change in legislation. When there is wrongdoing, citizens fight back.
Now, as employers continue to exploit their workers, as they show a disturbing neglect for human life, it’s time to fight for similar changes.
NYCOSH made 12 recommendations at the end of the report to promote worker safety and reverse horrifying employer practices. Some key recommendations include:
- Hold corporations financially and legally accountable when they show a willful neglect for human lives – and increase repercussions for such actions, including criminal persecutions
- Defend existing laws that protect workers and increase protection by passing the Elevator Safety Act
- Require the equivalent of OSHA 10 training for all New York construction workers
- Proactively protect Latino and immigrant workers, who are at greater risk to be exploited
To read the full list, visit the Deadly Skyline report directly on the NYCOSH site. It’s important to recognize that recommendations cannot have the desired effect until they’re implemented into our infrastructure and legislation.
The Law Firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy brings you the latest analysis, trends, and legal news on the New York construction industry. Follow us on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, or Google Plus for updates. Our highly-qualified lawyers have won top results in construction accident cases for workers in New York State, including 3 of the Top 5 Construction Settlements in 2016. To learn more about our results, visit our Construction Accident Verdicts & Settlements page.
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