New York City construction fatalities nearly double this year

Figures show that New York City construction injuries and fatalities have risen dramatically over the last fiscal year.

Recently released figures on safety in New York City's construction industry are revealing some worrying trends. According to Politico New York, construction-related fatalities nearly doubled during Fiscal Year 2015 and construction injuries are also up substantially for the same period. While contractors and industry groups claim the increase is due to a boom in construction in the city, there are concerns that persistent safety violations are leading to more accidents on New York job sites.

Accidents increasing

The New York City Department of Buildings recently released construction-accident figures for Fiscal Year 2015, which ran until June 30. Those figures show that in F.Y. 2015 construction-related fatalities were at 11, which was close to double the six fatalities that were recorded during F.Y. 2014. This year is also, according to the New York Times, proving to be the deadliest in the city's construction industry since 2008.

In addition to fatalities, overall construction-related injuries are also on a dramatic upswing, increasing 34 percent during F.Y. 2015, when there were 283 injuries, compared to F.Y. 2014, when there were 211 injuries. Those figures also reflect a large long-term increase from the 128 injuries that were recorded as recently as F.Y. 2011.

Safety violations

For contractors and industry groups, the increase is largely being pinned on an overall increase in construction itself. However, according to one City Councilman, dismissing a high number of injuries as simply the byproduct of more construction may end up overlooking persistent safety violations at some New York work sites. Many of the recent incidents, the councilman notes, have involved falls. The contractor at the center of the most recent fatality, for example, in which a worker fell 30 feet down an elevator shaft and died, had already been cited earlier this year by the Buildings Department after another worker was witnessed not wearing a harness.

Others point out that the vast majority of worker deaths and injuries have involved non-union labor. Union-labor proponents complain that contractors that hire non-union workers are more eager to cut corners and put profit margins ahead of worker safety. They also claim that union workers tend to be better trained in job-site safety than their non-unionized counterparts. A 2012 Occupational Safety and Health Administration report, for example, noted that six of the eight New York City construction-related fatalities for that year involved non-union workers. Additionally, because construction is booming, many of the new workers who are being hired may not fully understand their rights when it comes to safety or they may be afraid of speaking up about safety violations due to the possibility of retaliation from their employer.