Articles Posted in Construction Accidents

Amid a long-running construction boom in New York, the Department of Buildings (DOB) sent a message to construction companies and contractors by cracking down on habitual offenders with a round of “surprise inspections.” The DOB’s new commissioner took action against the construction industry during his first few days on the job. “Every worker should be thinking about safety first,” Acting Buildings Commissioner Thomas Fariello told WNYC, “It’s not just a saying, it’s real.”

The DOB has been roundly criticized for failing to protect the workers in New York’s most dangerous industry. In April, three construction workers died while on the job. In the same month, the DOB delayed implementing new safety regulations for the second time since the law passed City Council in 2017. The city-run agency said it had insufficient resources to draft and enforce the regulations.

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The deadliest industry in New York is becoming even more dangerous with injuries caused by construction accidents increasing a hefty 221 percent in the last five years. According to CBS New York, deaths in the construction industry alone increased by 33 percent in the same time period. Just last month, three New York construction workers died while on the job. In SoHo, a worker was crushed by a crane. The other two workers died from falling debris at their worksite.

According to the local news station, there are two primary causes of the increase in workplace injuries. First, New York City is experiencing a construction boom. Gary Labarbera, President of NYTC Building and Construction Trades Council, told CBS News that despite a “busy, robust construction market… there shouldn’t be anywhere near this many fatalities.” The second (and related) reason involves contractors who are “willing to underbid to the job” and then “cut corners everywhere they can find,” says bricklayer Jerry Gozdyra. Unfortunately, these contractors and construction companies often undercut the safety of their workers. “It’s always been a dangerous profession, but deadlines and pressure from when you [have to] get [the work] done sometimes cause you to take risks. If you’re given the time and proper equipment you have a better chance of working safely,” masonry restoration specialist Christine Azzoli told the local news channel.

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A new government report on the construction industry shows serious defects in compliance across the state. Released by Senator James Skoufits, he says the report shows that, “Firefighters are going to die. Tenants are going to die if the state and local officials do not start prioritizing code enforcement.” According to the Senator’s ‘bombshell’ report, the problems with regulating the industry are widespread and involve everyone from the executive branch to the local municipalities.

Released in August 2019, the report details serious dangers with the state’s construction industry. According to NBC New York, the report specifically faults:

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Amid widespread noncompliance and mounting accidents in New York’s most dangerous industry, City Council ‘tweaked’ its construction safety laws last month. The law originally passed in 2017 in the aftermath of several serious and preventable construction accidents has failed to put a dent in the number of construction worker deaths, which continue to increase each year. The law requires all construction workers in the city to receive at least 30 hours of safety training by Dec. 1 2019, according to City & State New York. By Sept. 1, 2010, the number of training hours required increases to 40 hours. 

The bold and controversial law has largely languished since it passed, according to the newspaper. The Department of Buildings has pushed back the deadline for worker training several times after failing to implement the standards and programs required by the training courses. The government agency says that the City Council has made the problem worse by continually revising the law since 2017. Allegations of widespread fraud have been reported in the news, describing a black market for safety training certificates and online courses that lack adequate identity verification policies. 

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New York police went undercover this month to catch speeding drivers in Westchester by posing as highway construction workers. According to CT Post, the police officers disguised themselves and then staked out work zones on I-684 in what they named “Operation Hard Hat.” The ‘operation’ was apparently successful, with almost 50 tickets issued to drivers in just a couple days. The police say the tickets issued to motorists included traffic violations from talking on the phone while driving to speeding. However, the most common citation involved a violation of New York’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to either move out of the lane closest to construction workers or, if that is not possible, slow their vehicle down to a crawl while passing through the work zone.
Under New York law, fines are doubled for motorists when their violation occurs in a work zone. The “work zone trap” set up by New York police in disguise is an increasingly popular way of responding to the increase in car accidents occurring in work zones. Last year, more than 700 crashes in New York occurred in a work zone. These crashes led to 329 injuries and 13 fatalities, according to CT Post. The New York Transportation Commissioner applauded the efforts by Westchester police, saying “The Success of Operation Hard Hat is imperative – it protects our transportation workers and raises awareness to the serious issue of work zone safety.”

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The Department of Buildings (DOB) is suing to revoke the license of a contractor allegedly responsible for the death of a construction worker earlier this year in Turtle Bay. According to The New York Daily News, Nelson Salinas was working on scaffolding halfway up a 14-story residential building when a coping stone was knocked loose by rigging used to support the scaffolding. The stone hit Salinas in the head and he was rushed to New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center where he died from the injuries

After a full investigation, the DOB says the fault lies with Wlodzimierz Tomczak and is now attempting to revoke his special rigger license over the incident. According to the DOB, Tomczak “did not take proper precautions” and could not produce “multiple inspection records… related to the scaffold setup.” 

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New York’s only-one-in-the-country scaffold law is under scrutiny, again. Council Speaker Corey Johnson is hoping to reform the heavily criticized law while overhauling the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the pseudo-independent government agency responsible for the subway and bridges around New York City. According to The New York Post, the scaffold law assigns 100 percent of the liability to owners and contractors for any injury occurring on a construction site, regardless of whether the worker was at fault or not. Proponents of the law describe the dangerous conditions that New York construction workers must operate and say the law incentivizes contractors and companies to create a safe workplace.

Opponents of the law say the law is unnecessarily expensive, driving up the cost of much-needed infrastructure projects across the state. Across the country, construction liability insurance typically averages between 2 to 3 percent of a construction project. In New York, that number is between 7 and 10 percent, according to Lawsuit Reform Alliance Coalition of New York. Johnson said the law eventually makes a construction project 10 times more expensive to insure in New York. Johnson used the MTA’s East Side Access Project, which links the LIRR to Grand Central, as an example. In 2002, liability insurance on the project cost $93 million. The same liability insurance policy now costs taxpayers $584 million each year. Johnson says the Scaffold Law is a major contributor to the increased costs.

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Carbon monoxide poisoning injured nine workers at a construction site in Midtown Manhattan last month. According to ABC 7 New York, the FDNY responded to a call at a high-rise residential development in Flatiron when several workers complained of feeling dizzy. When the firefighters arrived, the level of carbon monoxide at the construction site tested around 750 parts-per-a-million. According to the news agency, carbon monoxide is “dangerous” at 10 parts-per-a-million. The entire site was quickly evacuated.

All workers at the site immediately sought medical care and nine were admitted into the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. According to the FDNY, workers were pouring the foundation in a 60 square-foot-area. “It is very difficult to ventilate because there’s only a very small area to enter into the confined space. While the names and injuries suffered by the workers have not been released, witnesses at the scene reported seeing multiple construction workers carried off in stretchers. “We were able to begin IV treatment, cardiac monitoring while our peers on the fire side did all the heavy lifting of pulling them out,” EMS Deputy Chief Kathleen Knuth told ABC’s local affiliate.

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A new study released by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine showed that falls remain the second leading cause of death for workers across the country. The study showed that falls represented 14 percent of all workplace fatalities in the United States during an 11-year period between 2003 and 2014. Workers with the highest rates of fatal falls were employed in the construction industry, representing 42.2 percent of all fatalities, and installation, maintenance, and repair, representing 12.5 percent of all workplace fatalities caused by falls.

Overall, a total of 8,800 workers died in America as the result of a fall during this 11-year period. The falls were further divided into the “length of the fall” and, unsurprisingly, workers that fell a single story or more were more likely to die as a result – with 84.7 percent of all worker deaths caused by a fall of “more than one level.” For workers that fell, but not a full story or level, only 12.7 percent of workers died. The remaining 2.6 percent passed away from “all other types of falls.”

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Workplace fatalities in New York rose 55 percent during 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. With 87 deaths during the year, the number of workplace fatalities has not been this high since 2008. The high number of deaths is especially surprising because the number of construction fatalities, the industry with the highest number of deaths each year, remained flat. Further, the high number of deaths follows a historically low number of deaths in the immediately preceding year. In 2016, only 56 workers died while performing their duties.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the high number of deaths was caused by two anomalies. First, the year saw an oddly high number of deaths caused by “falls, slips, and trips” outside of the construction industry. In total, 31 people died during the year compared to 13 in 2016. Second, seven finance workers, an industry not known for its hazardous job conditions, died during the year. No finance workers died while working in the immediately preceding five years. In another historical anomaly, workers dying from “unintentional overdoses” almost doubled from 10 to 18. With more Americans addicted to dangerous opiates, economic analysts expect this number to continue to increase.

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