The safety of construction workers in New York is being questioned after yet another nonunion worker died on the job on December 23rd, just before the Christmas holiday.
The safety of construction workers in New York is being questioned after yet another nonunion worker died on the job on December 23rd, just before the Christmas holiday. The man’s name has not yet been released, but he is the 31st New York City construction employee to meet his demise in just two years. Evidently, the man had been wearing a harness while working on the third floor of a building, but he was not hooked to a cable and fell to his death suddenly.
Another New York City worker, Wilfredo Enrique, fell to his death while working at the Domino Sugar Factory site a month earlier, in November 2016, and two additional men, Elizandro Enriquez Ramos and George Smith, were crushed by a steel beam in the same time period. The city’s major, Bill de Blasio, called for an investigation into whether the deaths were caused by preventable human error.
Many are questioning why there hasn’t been more done by city officials to protect the livelihood of its construction workers. Ineffective safety regulations and general lack of regard for employee welfare are said to be the cause. Many of the workers are foreign born, undocumented immigrants hired as ‘cheap labor’ so their safety isn’t necessarily considered a priority. Nonunion companies, which make up the majority of the construction industry, are looking to save on overhead as they struggle to meet increased demand, and these companies reportedly make up 90 percent of the offenders in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in New York. The list is comprised of companies who have grossly endangered the lives of their employees by neglecting to adhere to safety guidelines. Union workers are more apt to be properly trained and equipped with proper safety gear.
The number of building permits issued in New York City increased nearly 20 percent in just three years. With the construction industry making a record come back, employers are stocking sites at full capacity looking to quickly crank out the work. Contractors are hired in and placed on the job immediately, often without undergoing any safety training or even being shown how to properly complete tasks by their supervisors. Equipment required to be present at the sites by law, such as safety nets to protect workers who fall, aren’t being utilized.
OSHA staffing has not kept pace with the increased work, and is actually on the decline. The number of OSHA employees has decreased substantially over the past few years, falling by as much as 13 percent. This leaves many jobscapes not up to code and not being inspected. Those that do get inspected often have a large number of violations, which further consumes OSHA resources, and often these fines are so minuscule, there isn’t much incentive for employers to stop work and bring their sites up to code. According to OSHA records, not surprisingly, many of the violations found are related to improper fall protection, which is responsible for most construction deaths. The number of injuries and fatalities has soared in the midst of limited OSHA staffing, with a 250 percent increase in the number of injuries between 2011 and 2015. It’s high time something meaningful is done to start saving lives.
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