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Construction Deaths

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410w

You may not be surprised that the combination of non-union worksites and a weak regulatory enforcement structure kills construction workers:

Most construction sites where workers died failed to take basic steps to prevent them from falling. Workers frequently did not wear harnesses or helmets, as required by law. Supervision was often lacking. In many of the projects, a premium was placed on speed, causing workers to take dangerous shortcuts.

About a quarter of the deaths took place in Midtown, attracting a vast majority of news media attention for such accidents. But the rest occurred, largely unnoticed, all over the city. They usually involved smaller projects, using nonunion workers, who were often poorly trained. Often the contractors had been previously cited for safety violations and failed to pay penalties.

Seven workers have died on the job since July, including three in a nine-day stretch before Labor Day, according to records of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

The city’s Buildings Department keeps its own count of construction deaths, injuries and accidents, offering a broader look at safety year over year. There were 10 construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year, from July 2014 to July 2015, according to city figures. In contrast, the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5.

Meanwhile, 324 workers were injured in the last fiscal year, a jump of 53 percent, and the Buildings Department recorded 314 accidents over all, an increase of 52 percent from the year before. The total was more than two and a half times what the city tallied in 2011. In comparison, permits for new construction projects grew by only 11 percent in the last fiscal year and permits for renovation and other work by 6 percent.

“There is absolutely no doubt that there is a real problem with construction safety,” said Mark G. Peters, the commissioner of the city’s Investigation Department, which looks into construction fatalities.

An improving economy and low interest rates helped fuel the current building boom, but there are signs that more is to come. Mayor Bill de Blasio is embracing vertical construction to help make housing more affordable. And uncertainty over the future of a lucrative tax abatement program for developers caused many to rush to file new construction permits this year.

The deaths make clear that the city is being built, or in some cases rebuilt, heavily on the backs of recent immigrants, particularly from Latin America, most of them not authorized to work in this country.

It’s quite simple really. If you want safe workplaces, two things need to happen. First, union contractors should be strongly encouraged. Unions often ensure safe workplaces because safety is not laughed at, nor left up to individual workers who may in fact chafe at the union’s efforts to keep this safe (I talk about this point among loggers in Empire of Timber). Second, you fine the hell out of contractors with safety violations, you follow up with those fine, and you seize the contractor’s assets if they don’t pay and prosecute them personally for violations and contempt. But there are far, far too few regulators for the amount of places they need to inspect, a problem throughout the American regulatory structure. This is a major advantage for employers, who fight with their Republican allies to undermine these regulatory agencies for exactly this reason. The result is dead workers.

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  • BiloSagdiyev

    But there are far, far too few regulators for the amount of places they need to inspect, a problem throughout the American regulatory structure. This is a major advantage for employers, who fight with their Republican allies to undermine these regulatory agencies for exactly this reason. The result is dead workers.

    Oh, sure, but that’s only been obvious since the Hamlet chicken plant fire. But who knew that the kind of company that would nail fire doors shut so employees didn’t steal chickens would also let hydraulic hoses next to heater elements get old and rotten?

    Can we get back to you in 25 more years?

  • kped

    This hits close to home, many of my family are roofers. My dad is a supervisor at construction sites. There were times my brothers were working a job on his site, and he sent their crews home for not wearing harnesses. They learnt their lesson. Problem is, too many places don’t have the regulation that makes someone like my dad take it seriously, and then it trickles down the line. And it’s dangerous. Very.

  • DrDick

    Frankly, given what I know about blue collar work places, I would be shocked if this was not the result.

  • AMK

    “Most of them not authorized to work in this country”

    So part of the solution might be cracking down on developers who hire contractors who feed off of the illegal immigrant labor that allows them to undercut the unions. I’m sure all the job-creating patriots who run the Manhattan real estate market will be sure to raise the issue at the next GOP fundraiser.

  • N__B

    Since I deal with construction in Manhattan every day, I guess I should weight in.

    There are fairly stringent Department of Buildings regs involving safety, including specific OSHA training requirements for a lot of laborers and foremen. The amount of construction in the current boom has swamped the DoB staff in every regard, including field inspection. So crappy work (in general) and unsafe work conditions (in specific) that might have been caught in the calmer days of 2010 are not getting caught.*

    Smarter owners and developers (and there are some) don’t want accidents or any possibility of DoB interference. (Stop work orders cost the owner a lot.) So they hire decent (usual union) contractors and don’t squeeze them beyond reason. Dumber owners and developers go to great lengths to get the lowest possible bid on every trade, and end up hiring scum subcontractors.

    Obviously, we need to go after contracting firms that ignore safety. I’m in favor of criminal prosecution, including murder, manslaughter, and attempted murder charges. Tats aid, the most efficient way to change the situation si to pressure the project owners. For example, a mandatory one-year moratorium on work after a fatal accident, and a mandatory four or six-month moratorium after a non-fatal serious accident would make the idiots pay attention more than any other penalty I can think of. Hurting them in the wallet is what they understand.

    *There is a standing instruction in my office that of we see anything unsafe we report it. Because reporting it to the DoB sometimes results in an inspector showing up two to five days later, we use that oncoming inspection as a way to force the contractors to clean up their act: “Fix this or we report it and you get in real trouble.”

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      keep the project owners from pushing the contractors into doing stupid things to meet a deadline, yes?

      • N__B

        And keeping them from looking at first cost as the only metric in choosing a contractor.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          that would have made my brother’s life easier back in the slow times after 2008. He’s in commercial construction in the MPLS/St Paul area- the company has union workers and a good reputation but it got real dog eat dog for a while because not only was there was so much competition for what work there was, but the project owners were really leery of committing to any more $ than they absolutely had to

          • N__B

            The only things I can do for good contractors are put them on bidders lists and talk them up with the owners. We need to change the way the owners think.

    • Hogan

      For example, a mandatory one-year moratorium on work after a fatal accident, and a mandatory four or six-month moratorium after a non-fatal serious accident would make the idiots pay attention more than any other penalty I can think of.

      You are the sunshine of my life.

      • Brett

        I like that idea, too.

  • You know those big inflatable rats the unions put out on the streets?

    They are there for a reason.

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