- Construction work in New York — city and statewide — remains the most deadly profession in the country. A total of 41 laborers died on the job in New York state in 2020, a decrease from 2019. However, fewer workers climbed scaffolding and pounded nails during the pandemic, so the rate of deaths still rose.
- The fatality rate rose to 11.1 deaths per 100,000 workers that year, up from 10.2 the year before.
- Workplace deaths in construction accounted for 24% of fatalities on the job in New York, compared to 21% nationwide, according to a labor group's analysis of data from the New York Department of Buildings, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and OSHA.
The data analysis comes from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), an independent labor group with membership of workers, unions, activists and health and safety professionals.
"New York should be a national leader in worker safety, but the data reveal that we continue to lead the nation in construction worker fatalities, despite COVID-19 shutdowns," Charlene Obernauer, NYCOSH Executive Director, said in a statement.
Other findings from the report include:
- In 2020, OSHA conducted the fewest inspections in the agency's history, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- However, OSHA fines for fatalities increased for the fifth consecutive year.
- Latino construction workers remain disproportionately likely to die on the job, accounting for 18% of fatalities, but 10% of the population.
- Almost 80% of worker deaths were on non-union jobsites.
"The rate of construction fatalities in New York is unacceptable," Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said in a statement shared with Construction Dive. "I urge lawmakers to continue to defend the state's scaffold safety law, increase oversight and enact stiffer penalties against bad actors."
NYCOSH called on lawmakers to expand regulations to hold "negligent contractors" liable for endangering workers.
One regulation that is unique to New York, the Scaffold Law, places full liability on owners and contractors if an employee falls and doesn't have the prescribed protective equipment.
However, employer groups fervently oppose the law. Contractors and industry groups have lobbied politicians for its repeal, saying that it greatly increases liability costs on projects.
In April 2021, contractor groups joined the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials in asking Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to exempt the $11.6 billion Hudson River Tunnel Project from the Scaffold Law. The liability costs, the opponents said, could add $180 million and $300 million to the project's bottom line.
But NYCOSH chief Obernauer defended the Scaffold Law, noting the fines for construction worker deaths are too low. Additionally, construction firms are only liable when they fail to provide workers with the proper equipment.
"The Scaffold Law provides a disincentive to disregard safety protections and cut corners, creating criminally unsafe job sites," Obernauer said.