NYC construction deaths surging due to “overwhelmed” regulators, Times investigative report finds

Updated Dec 9, 2015

New York City NYC construction street

An investigative report from the New York Times has found that the number of construction workers killed on the job in New York City has surged in the last two years, far outpacing the rate of the city’s new construction in that time.

Calling safety conditions on NYC jobsites “woefully inadequate,” the Times report says many of the dozen-plus deaths of construction workers since 2013 were “completely avoidable,” noting that “time and again in thousands of pages of…documents…the same issues emerged.”

“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.”

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Citing data from the NYC Buildings Department, the Times reports 10 workers died on projects in the city in fiscal year 2015 (July 2014 to July 2015) alone. That figure nearly doubles the annual average over the previous four years. The number of injured workers on NYC jobsites is also surging, up 53 percent in the last fiscal year to 324.

The majority of workers hurt and killed on NYC jobsites, according to the Times report, are undocumented immigrants. And many of those workers used forged documents, sometimes provided by the contractors they worked for, to fly under the radar of inspectors and government officials.

The report points to an “overwhelmed” regulation apparatus in the city as a key factor in the surging number of construction deaths. Citing “the sheer volume of construction activity in the city” and a low number of inspectors as the primary deterrants for the city’s Buildings Department, the report also highlights that department’s historical “plague” of corruption, specifically officials being paid to look the other way on code violations.

Even attempts to improve worker safety have been fraudulently skirted, as the Times notes the city’s photo identification cards signifying that workers have completed safety courses required by the city are being forged and sold for as little as $25. The real cards cost $300 (not paid for by their employer) and usually require taking two days off for the required training.

However, the city is continuing to seek out solutions including random site inspections and filing manslaughter and other charges against contractors and developers found to be employing willful negligence in the upkeep of unsafe jobsite conditions.

New York City isn’t alone in seeing an increased number of deaths on jobsites. The number of fatalities on construction sites nationwide increased by 10 percent in 2014 to 874, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Falls accounted for 349 of those deaths.