464 hard hats died in construction accidents in New York State between the beginning of 2006 and the end of 2016. 55 of them died in 2015. Construction is the second most dangerous industry in NY Sate after the agricultural industry. In New York City deaths related to construction accidents represent 34% of all occupational deaths compared to 32% in Los Angeles and 24% in Chicago. Most of these deaths are preventable according to the Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State published this week by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH)
Over the last few years, the boom in the construction industry led to an increase in hard hat fatalities in New York City. 25 construction workers died on the job in 2015 compared to 22 in 2014, 17 in 2013, 20 in 2013 and 17 in 2011. Over these five years, almost 60% of the fatalities were related to falls. Other common construction accidents were related to elevator installations, electrocutions, falling objects and workers caught between equipment or machinery. From 2014 to 2015, the number of NYC construction accidents involving injury or death almost doubled, It went from 231 in 2014 to 435 in 2015.
There are only 66 OSHA inspectors in New York State. In 2014, these inspectors visited more than 2,000 construction sites. Inspectors found violations on 2 out of 3 sites visited. The most common violation was failure to protect workers from falls. The average fine was $3,673. Since August 2016, OSHA increased its fines, hoping that it may deter contractors from violating safety standards. This increase in penalties took place two months after the preventable death of 22 year old Carlos Moncayo. After the death of Moncayo, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance collaborated with construction workers advocate groups to support the use of criminal laws to prosecute negligent contractors who recklessly endangered their employees life (see previous blog). As a result, Moncayo’s employer was criminally convicted and sent to jail.
HIGHER RISK OF INJURY AND FATALITY ON NON-UNION CONSTRUCTION SITES
Workers have a much higher risk of being injured or to die at a non-unionized construction sites. 93% of the companies listed by OSHA as “severe violators” are non-union. In average OSHA finds two times more safety violations on non unionized construction sites than on unionized ones. Over the last several years, non-union construction sites accounted for around 80% of NYC construction accident fatalities.
The real number of construction accident fatalities is higher than OSHA statistics. Many employers are hiring construction workers as “self employed workers” . When these workers are injured or die they are not counted in OSHA statistics. Additionally these workers are often paid below the minimum wage. They do not have access to unemployment benefits or 401Ks. They often face discrimination and work in unsafe conditions with no right to workers compensation in case of injury. The Construction Industry Fair Play Act was passed in 2010 to respond to this type of issue but it is still a common practice in the New York construction industry. Latino workers, especially undocumented ones are the most exposed to the above practices. They are also the most at risk of getting injured or dying in a construction accident.