- Safety-related construction incidents in 2021 decreased for the third straight year in New York City, as the number of permits issued increased from 2020, according to a new report from the city's Department of Buildings.
- Last year, 712 incidents — or events that the DOB is called to respond to — occurred on or near jobsites, a 10% decrease from 2020. Incidents include injuries and fatalities, but also collapses, material drops or damage to property resulting in no bodily harm.
- The drop continues a decline in incidents beginning in 2019, which was the first decrease in nearly a decade. Despite that trend, the DOB counted three more injuries and one more death in 2021 than in 2020.
The department claimed changes in regulations, such as mandatory site training for workers on larger sites; increased inspections; and direct outreach to the community spurred the three-year drop in incidents.
In June, in response to several fatal and injurious falls earlier that year, the department launched a three-month-long "Zero Tolerance" campaign. Inspectors swept across 7,443 jobsites, issuing 1,499 stop work orders for hazardous conditions. During the effort, contractors violating regulations faced up to $25,000 in penalties.
The campaign coincided with a drop in site injuries, the DOB found. Following the campaign, construction-related injuries dropped from 44.6 a month (for the first five months of 2021) to 37.3 a month (for the latter seven months). Despite the correlation, the DOB had no data indicating it was the only cause for the decrease.
Ultimately, the department returned to routine unannounced inspections of the city's larger jobsites. Borrowing inspectors from other units contributed to the campaign's limited time frame.
By the numbers
A decrease in workers accompanied the decrease in incidents. The construction industry employed 40,500 people in the city in 2021, down 41,300 from the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
SOURCE: NYC DOB
Worker falls — the most common cause of death and injury in construction — caused the largest share of incidents and deaths in 2021. Seven of nine worker deaths in 2021 resulted from worker falls, which also accounted for 205 of all incidents.
Politicians and employer and labor groups alike had good things to say about the report's findings.
"These reports help inform the measures we need in place to prioritize the safety of workers and the public," Francisco Moya, city council member, said in the release. "It also advances our work to halt violations by unscrupulous contractors and prevent fatalities."
Still, as more work comes in, including from projects funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, lawmakers must continue to make safety a priority, said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
"We're anticipating a robust pipeline of work with both state and city capital projects preparing to break ground and significant federal investment in large-scale infrastructure projects on its way, which is more reason than ever to ensure that the rigorous safety protocols required at union worksites become the standard across all New York City construction sites." LaBarbera said in the release.
However, as often noted, there is always room for improvement, as noted by Louis J. Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers Association.
"Even one fatality is too many and we want to make sure that everyone returns home each night," Coletti said.