All you have to do is look up to see that New York City is in the midst of a building boom; but this surge in development comes with a price. The New York Times reports that construction-related deaths and injuries over the past two years, most of which affect undocumented immigrant laborers, “far exceeds the rate of new construction over the same period,” a testament to the inadequate safety systems at job sites. City records show that there were ten construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year (July 2014 – July 2015), nearly twice the annual average. This time period also saw a 53 percent spike in injuries, up to 324 instances, and a 52 percent rise in accidents, up to 314.
According to the Times’ review, most recent construction fatalities could have been prevented had basic safety measures such as wearing helmets or harnesses been implemented. A lack of supervision and pressure to rush a job also contributed. Nearly 25 percent of deaths occurred in Midtown, where they drew much media attention. The remaining 75 percent, however, were scattered throughout the five boroughs and “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.”
A flawed OSHA system has contributed to these repeat offenders. There’s a lack of OSHA inspectors, the violation fines are relatively low, and for years, contractors were able to get away with distributing fake OSHA cards to undocumented workers. Additionally, the Buildings Department is understaffed. In 2015 to date, the DOB has received 2,000 complaints for Code 91, which means “site conditions endangering workers.” The 57-story luxury tower rising at 252 East 57th Street has received 40 such complaints alone. Though there were no deaths at the site, one worker said, “I was working on a construction site yesterday. Two people were injured. They were advised NOT to call E.M.S.” To address these issues, Mayor de Blasio has committed to hiring 100 new Buildings Department inspectors and investing in better construction data tools.
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