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.
Deaths in the construction industry in 2017 also bucked several trends. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Martin Kohli, chief economist, said that “an increase in worker deaths in New York usually coincides with an uptick in construction fatalities. In 2017, however, construction deaths remained relatively flat.” This data, however, obscures a sharp increase in deaths outside of New York City. In Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State, released on Jan. 30, the advocacy group New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health reported 69 construction deaths across the state – 20 in New York City and 49 construction deaths outside of the five boroughs. This means that construction deaths have decreased 23 percent in New York City in the last five years while the entire state has seen a 39 percent increase during the same period. In short, construction is becoming safer in New York City while becoming significantly deadlier in the rest of the state.
After a decade of declining workplace deaths, New York experienced a sharp upturn in 2017. Given the underlying causes spurring the high rate – construction deaths outside of the city and drug overdoses – analysts expect the number of deaths to increase. While a decline in construction deaths in New York City is laudable, especially during the recent building boom, construction remains the deadliest industry in New York City.
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