The New York City Department of Buildings recently released its Construction Safety Report for 2019-2020. The document notes that although construction incidents that involved injuries and fatalities decreased by 24% in 2019—”the first drop in nearly a decade”—there were nonetheless twelve deaths in construction-related incidents that year. “Even one death caused by unsafe work practices on a construction site is unacceptable,” the report states, “and the Department is committed to further driving down this number.” The Department carefully reviews every construction-related incident in New York City in order to hold responsible parties accountable and prevent future fatalities and injuries. Below are brief descriptions of the 12 tragic incidents in 2019, as described by the Department of Buildings.
New York City building inspectors are implementing “zero-tolerance sweeps” in the city’s job sites, according to a recent report by Construction Dive. The sweeps are in response to “three worker deaths in recent weeks, two of which were the result of falls,” according to the report, and have resulted in 322 sites shut down due to hazardous conditions. Continue reading
A new analysis by Construction Dive details research showing “that construction workers had the highest positivity rates for asymptomatic cases of any occupation, including healthcare staff, first responders, correctional personnel, elderly care workers, grocery store workers and food service employees.”
The research was completed by Curative, a “testing firm”, in Los Angeles from August to October, according to the report, and consisted of giving people who tested positive for Covid-19 a questionnaire that inquired about their profession. It ultimately showed that construction workers “had a positivity rate of 5.7% for individuals who were asymptomatic, and 10.1% for those with symptoms, according to the study.” Continue reading
The labor union AFL-CIO recently released its 29th annual “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” report. Among other things, the study examines state and national trends in workplace deaths, injuries, and illnesses; safety inspections; penalties and other sanctions issued against workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; and staffing issues. It also includes information about the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on workplaces. Continue reading
As the article notes, a potpourri of academic research, public health data, and media reports indicate that the industry has not fared so well. There have been concerning outbreaks across the country, with construction workplaces having the third highest number of outbreaks in Washington and Michigan, and the second highest number of clusters in Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile academic research indicates that Texas construction workers are five times likelier to be hospitalized as a result of Covid-19 than workers in other sectors, and a CDC study found that construction sites had the second highest number of cases in Utah.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently released a list of its most common Covid-19 citations in construction and other industries, in order “to help employers understand which OSHA standards have been cited most frequently during COVID-19 related inspections.” The document was based on data OSHA maintains regarding its citations and inspections, which it states it initiated after complaints, referrals, or fatalities in various industries, including: “hospitals and healthcare, nursing homes and long term care settings, and meat/poultry processing facilities.”
According to OSHA’s data, the most common citations dealt with respiratory protection. Workplaces were cited for failing to provide a medical evaluation before a worker used or was fit-tested for a respirator; omitting information in workers’ medical evaluations; failing to perform appropriate fit tests; failing to ensure fit tests whenever a different respirator face piece was use; and failing to administer a fit test using a standard protocol.
Last week Construction Dive, a publication focused on the construction industry, rounded up a number of construction sites across the country that have experienced Covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began. As Construction Dive notes, there is no national body tracking outbreaks by industry, but local news sources have kept an eye on their communities, including construction workplaces.
In April, according to Construction Dive, there were at least two Covid-19 clusters centered in a construction site at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. The clusters affected seven workers, and the construction site “was shut down for disinfecting after each outbreak.” Continue reading
A new study published online in JAMA Network Open finds that construction workers may be at high risk of Covid-19 infection. Conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the Santa Fe Institute, the study asked whether construction work is associated with increased community transmission of Covid-19 as well as disproportionate fatalities in US construction workers. It examined hospitalization data in central Texas, finding that “construction workers had a nearly 5-fold increased risk of hospitalization in central Texas compared with other occupational categories.” Its authors conclude that this does not mean construction work must be halted, but that workplaces should take seriously the necessary safety measures and paid sick leave policies to protect vulnerable essential workers.
As the study notes in its introduction, early in the pandemic policymakers across the US differed in their views on the essentiality of construction work: “Boston, New York, and San Francisco severely restricted allowable projects. Other cities and states deemed commercial and home construction essential. Most of the nation’s 7.3 million construction workers remained employed throughout April and May of 2020, representing 4.5% of the labor workforce, ranging from 1.8% in the District of Columbia to 10.5% in Wyoming.” The authors note that because construction workers operate in close physical proximity to each other, construction sites have a higher than average risk of Covid-19 transmission. And because “Latinx populations are overly represented among construction and essential industries,” they have higher rates of exposure too, which are “compounded by prevalent high-risk comorbidities and lack of access to health care.” According to the authors, the combination of these risks is probably partly responsible for the higher rates of COVID-19 infection and fatality in Latinx communities.
Even as overall traffic levels fell over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of crashes and fatalities at work zones has risen, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Workers patching potholes, striping roads, directing traffic or building highways are more at risk than ever,” it states, “as drivers zoom through work zones or are preoccupied chatting or texting on their phones.”
These trend in spite of a steep reduction in vehicle miles traveled: 40% in April 2020 (compared to April 2019) and 26% in May, per federal data. The report goes on to state that work zone crews continue to deal with reckless motorists even as traffic volume resumes. It cites a series of instances in Michigan, in which “vehicles struck three county employees in a state contractor” over the course of a single week, killing two of those victims. Pew stresses that motorists and passengers also suffer the consequences of reckless driving, noting that of the 672 fatal work zone crashes with 755 deaths in 2018, only 124 of those deaths were among the work zone crews. Of the 123,000 work zone crashes in 2018, it said, 45,000 people suffered injuries.
How can construction sites maximize safety during the Covid-19 pandemic? A new column in the Philadelphia Business Journal offers lessons and best-practices from Philadelphia-area job ites.
According to the column, that city’s chapter of the General Building Contractors Association started putting together safety protocols early in the pandemic, and took input from other industry stakeholders like the Building Trades Safety Committee, Med-Tex Services, and the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. The coalition met via weekly digital conferences to identify key safety issues and how to deal with them. Said one member of the group, “In a matter of weeks, the group put together a program that every building trades member and contractor in the region, or anywhere in the country, could use.”