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Inspections Decline Despite Sharp Increase in Construction Fatalities

Construction work can be seen everywhere you look around New York City. Building is at an all-time high. Sadly, injuries and deaths to construction workers have also soared during this period of growth. And a new study reveals some damning statistics about how our city has been approaching worker safety. To sum it up: apathy and ‘s indifference to human life.

During this period of explosive construction, and the spike in serious construction accidents, the number of inspections conducted by The Department of Buildings and OSHA has sharply decreased. Construction related fatalities in the city rose from 17 deaths in 2011 to an alarming 25 in 2015. Equally disturbing, during that same period, New York State experienced an increase from 33 to 55 construction fatalities. Serious construction injuries have also increased at a troubling rate. In 2011, New York State experienced 128 serious construction accidents. In 2015, the number of serious construction accidents has soared to 435. Those are massive increases and are not solely attributed to the increase in construction activity. This is a human rights epidemic. There are a number of contractors, property owners and developers who consistently flaunt safety requirements as they steadily focus on profits over people.

The response that our municipal agencies has provided is telling. There are agencies entrusted with the responsibility of making sure that the building which is taking place in our area is done in a safe manner. The agencies, the Department of Buildings and OSHA, can be proactive and go to construction sites and conduct safety inspections. The idea is to prevent the accident before it happens as opposed to investigating the accident after it happens. Try to be proactive instead of reactive. It is an approach that can save lives.

So, logically you would think that with the increase in construction and the spike in serious accidents that these agencies would increase manpower as well as the number of proactive safety inspections. You would be wrong. Dead wrong!

The number of safety inspections by OSHA has fallen from 2,722 in 2011 to 1,966 in 2015. That amounts to a decrease of 27% as construction activity has increased beyond comprehension. This is a very steep reduction in safety inspections during the worst possible time. The explanation seems to be a reduction in the number of qualified OSHA inspectors. How can anyone straight face this?

The study comes out as the City Council will begin to examine a number of Worker Safety bills which seek to create greater accountability for repeat safety offenders in the industry. The safety measures also look to create uniform laws concerning fall protection to curb unnecessary construction site falls, the deadliest type of construction accident.

Something needs to be done. For some reason it seems to have become quietly acceptable for people to die because they weren’t provided a safe place to work. The number of construction fatalities is staggering and it so far exceeds the number of deaths in any other profession. Yet, there is so little attention paid to improving worker safety. Imagine for a second that the lives lost were police officers, firemen or teachers? The City would be up in arms. Makes you wonder, why are these lives being measured differently. Who the dead workers are may play a role. Most victims in fatal construction accidents are Latino immigrants who are forced to perform some of the most dangerous jobs at a construction site. Our City seems to have forgotten these fallen workers.

Mike Hellstrom, the director for the 17,000-member Mason Tenders District Council said it well in a quote found in the New York Daily News, “Too many workers have left for work in the morning, never to return home. Today we make sure that the dead have a voice in demanding safe work sites for all construction workers, union and nonunion.”

Block O’Toole & Murphy stands with all construction workers, union and nonunion, in demanding that worker safety laws are strengthened and that safety inspections are not ignored. Additional attention can only save lives. Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of injured construction workers and their families. They have recovered more than $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You may contact them for a free consultation by calling 212-736-5300.