In 2016, a total of 71 construction workers were killed on the job in New York State. This number represents a 29 percent increase compared to 2015 and brought New York’s construction fatality rate to a level not seen since 2002. New York consistently ranks among the “Top 10” most dangerous states for construction workers. Perhaps most concerning, construction fatalities are increasingly more likely outside of New York City, which actually saw a decline in construction deaths – from 25 to 21 – during the same period.
Construction workers have always performed a dangerous job with limited protections. However, the decline of unions coupled with the reduced power of regulatory agencies has only made the job even more dangerous. A construction worker in New York is now 4.6 times more likely to die while on the job than the average New Yorker, according to NBC New York. Accounting for almost half of all deaths, falls were the leading cause of death for construction workers over the last decade.
In explaining the diverging trend between New York City and the rest of the state, advocates of safer working conditions point towards recent regulations which increased mandatory training for workers and heightened safety standards for construction sites in the city. The author of the report, Charlene Obernauer, told NBC New York that the state should follow New York City’s lead. As a result of severe funding cuts, the federal Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration is no longer able to effectively safeguard workers in the construction industry. According to the union-backed advocacy group who released the report, states should step in and fill this void.
The study by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health comes on the heels of a push to repeal New York’s century-old scaffolding laws. Originally passed in 1885, the law imposes “strict liability” on accidents occurring at a construction site. Strict liability means that regardless of the construction worker’s culpability or “fault,” the construction company will be liable for the damages. Proponents of repealing the scaffolding law describe the regulations as an expensive and ineffective way to protect workers. Construction safety advocates, on the other hand, point towards the increasing rate of construction accidents throughout the state and decry any effort to weaken safety protections. Under this view, repealing the scaffolding law would allow for companies and their high-powered attorneys to blame the injured construction worker for their injuries.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the construction industry leads in workplace accidents and deaths. Instead of repealing laws protecting construction workers and defunding government agencies meant to inspect construction sites, New York should pass legislation that protects construction workers and makes their job safer.
Gallivan & Gallivan fights for construction workers injured on the job. Contact us with any questions.