- Construction worker deaths are on the rise in New York City, and in a review of every construction fatality in the last two years, an in-depth New York Times investigation found that safety measures were inadequate on many of the construction sites where deaths occurred and that immigrants represented a disproportionate percentage of those killed.
- According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, seven workers have died on New York City construction sites since July — three of them during the nine-day period before Labor Day. From July 2014 to July 2015, there were 10 construction-site fatalities, but the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5. In addition to worker deaths, 324 were injured from July 2014 to July 2015, an increase of 53%, and the New York Department of Buildings recorded 314 accidents, an increase of 52% — more than twice the accidents the city recorded in 2011.
- However, permits for new construction projects, went up only 11% in the same time period, and permits for renovation and other work went up only 6%.
The Times found that many of the immigrants killed in construction-related accidents over the past two years were fairly powerless — due primarily to legal status — when it came to demanding safer work conditions or being able to report safety violations. They were often poorly trained, paid in cash and afraid of losing their jobs and having to leave the country as a result of speaking up.
Immigrant fatality rates in the wake of the building boom in New York City follow a tragic U.S. trend. Between 2010 and 2013, the rate of Latino construction worker fatalities on job sites continued to increase disproportionately to their population of the total industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A cultural lack of safety awareness, language barriers and insufficient training are all cited as factors in the increase in accidents; nevertheless, the overriding contributor seems to be employers who don’t demand adequate safety procedures on their projects, particularly when it comes to fall protection, according to The Times.
The Times reported that repeat violators often go unpunished and find ways around new regulations, such as issuing workers fake training cards. The investigation also found an inadequate supply of inspectors to keep up with the flurry of construction activity.
However, this trend could soon change, as New York officials launched construction task force with the goal of rooting out corruption in the industry, as well as chronic safety violators. In addition, OSHA fines are set to increase as much as approximately 80% in August 2016 as a result of an adjustment to the Consumer Price Index.