8 construction workers died and 502 were injured on the job in New York City in 2020 compared to respectively 11 and 596 in 2019. The slowdown in the construction industry related to the COVID-19 pandemic in all market sectors, except for healthcare construction, is the main factor behind this decline. Additionally Local Law 196 which was signed in 2017 but took effect in 2019 might also have contributed to a decrease in construction accident deaths and injuries in New York City. Local Law 196 requires that construction workers take a 40 hour safety training course and supervisors 62 hours safety course to be able to work on a NYC construction site. Most construction accidents are preventable and often occurred when workers lack sufficient knowledge or training.
NYC Construction accident fatalities decreased in every boroughs except for Brooklyn.
Manhattan is the borough that saw the most significant decrease in construction workers fatalities in 2020. Two construction workers died in accidents in Manhattan last year compared to respectively 6, 6, 7, 5 and 7 in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015. It is the fist time over the last 5 years that the number of construction accident fatalities in Manhattan is that low.
In one of the fatal accidents, 59 year old Mario Salas Victorio lost his life while repairing the façade of an upper east side residential building. The hard hat was on a hanging scaffolding when pieces from the roof detached and fell on them causing the scaffolding to collapse. Three other workers were injured as well. According to the Daily News the worker “was anxious something would happen“. Salas had just started to work for Edras Group, a non unionized employer who accumulated 43 safety violations since 2010. The company had been hired to repair the façade which had been reported to be unsafe and in need of repair in a 2019 DOB report.
The second Manhattan fatality occurred last September. Troy Evans, a 55 year old security guard, fell six stories down a ventilation shaft in a building located at 1 Wall Street. The building had a previous history of unsafe incidents. Two months before a worker was stunned after walking on a power cable. Several complaints about perilous framework, work being done at night and workers not respecting social distancing rules were also reported.
At the opposite of Manhattan, Brooklyn recorded the highest number of construction fatalities over the last 5 years. 5 workers died on Brooklyn construction sites in 2020 compared to respectively 2, 3, 4, 4 and 3 in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.
In June two hard hats died in accidents that might have been prevented if safety protocol had been respected. In the first accident, an unlicensed worker died after electrocuting himself while installing new junction boxes. In the second accident, a hard hat fell to his death after stepping onto a slab of formwork where the shoring was removed. 10 safety violations were found on the site. Two months later, in August, another worker fell to his death. Again fall safety protections were missing. In November, a worker fell 40 feet from a scaffold and died at a non-unionized construction site. Inspectors found multiple safety issues at the site. In December, a worker died in a wall collapse after performing a work without permits and in unsafe conditions. Sadly all these workers would still be alive if contractors had respected safety protocols and guidelines.
One construction worker died in a partial collapse in February 2020 in Queens. His death was completely avoidable. The site was very unsafe and the contractor was not respecting sequences in the demolition process. 50 year old David Johnson who was a unionized welder with Local 79 had accepted the job at the non union site because he could not find anything else. A day before the accident Johnson talked to another member of his union and predicted the site would collapse (read previous blog)
No fatal accidents were reported in the Bronx in 2020. Ove the last 5 years only 3 fatal accidents occurred in the Bronx, one in 2019, one in 2018 and one in 2015.
No fatal construction accidents were reported in Staten Island either. Staten Island has the lowest number of hard hat fatalities of all NYC boroughs. Since 2015, one death was reported.
While looking at the cause of these 8 deaths, the NYC department of buildings classified 2 of them as “other”, 4 of them as “worker fell” and the last 2 ones as “materiel fell”. While the classification of the DOB is somewhat limited and questionable, it still shows that half of the fatalities were falls.
Out of the 4 fall fatalities 3 occurred in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. All deaths could have been prevented if workers were proprely protected. In the first fall accident that occurred at 30 Kent Street and during which a worker installing a netting fell to his death after stepping onto a slab of formwork where the shoring was removed, DOB found that work conditions were very unsafe at the construction site. Workers never received site-specific safety orientation and pre-shift safety meetings content were not communicated. There were no removal sequences for the formwork and the horizontal netting was not proprely placed and not adequately maintained. The entrances had no overhead protections. The work did not conform to the approved site safety plan and the guardrail system was inadequate. The contractor was Wonder Work Construction and the site is owned by Greenpoint partners.
In the second deadly fall that also occurred in Brooklyn, the guardrail was not proprely installed.
The third fall death at 1 Wall Street was also due to a lack of safety protection (see more above).
The fourth death, at 710 Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn, occurred during the dismantling of a stair tower and the erection of a scaffold that would replace it. While the worker had all the credentials to execute the job, investigators found multiple safety issues at the site.
2 of the hard hat fatalities in NYC in 2020 were reported as “materiel fell” even though this classification is questionable. One of them was the death of the 55 year old welder in Queens that we described above. While the worker died after debris fell on him the cause of the accident was a partial collapse of the building. The other fatal accident classified in this category was the accident related to the death of the worker who died after debris fell from the roof and caused the scaffolding to collapse.
The two accidents classified as other were the electrocution of an unqualified worker in Brooklyn and the death of a worker doing excavation work without a permit in Brooklyn as well.
It is not clear why this accident was classified as other while there is an “excavation and soil work” category that shows no incidents of this type for 2020.
No scaffolding fatalities were reported either in 2020, even though 2 of the fatal accidents occurred while workers were working on scaffoldings (see above).
There were no fatal construction accidents related to the failure of mechanical construction equipment.
Another element that should be taken into consideration while looking at this data is that the DOB only tracks fatalities related to a violation of the city’s construction code, rather than tracking all construction work-related fatalities. For example a contractor who was killed by an exploding fire extinguisher on a construction site in Chelsea in May was not considered a “construction accident fatality” by the DOB. In another case, in Brooklyn, a 24 year old construction worker dumping trash at a recycling station was fatally struck by two trucks but again the DOB did not include this fatality in its stats.