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Rising construction worker deaths in New York a ‘crisis,’ executive director of NYCOSH says

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New York — Construction worker fatalities continue to rise in New York state amid rampant safety violations, according to an annual report released by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group.

Fatal injuries in the construction industry increased statewide to 71 in 2016 from 50 in 2014, although construction worker deaths in New York City declined to 21 from 28, respectively. The leading cause of death was falls, which accounted for 48 percent of the state’s construction worker deaths from 2007 to 2016.

The majority of fatalities involved nonunion worksites, the report noted, adding that “increases in the fatality number are not attributable to an increase in the amount of construction projects in the state.”

NYCOSH also analyzed OSHA inspections in New York state, finding a 62.6 percent decrease in inspections from 1986 to 2017. “This decrease in inspections coincides with a substantial increase in the population and number of worksites over the same period of time,” the report states.

Additional analysis found that safety violations occurred at 82 percent of OSHA-inspected construction fatality sites in 2016. “Employers regularly endanger their workforce by disregarding regulations, and workers die as a result,” the report claims.

The report offers several recommendations:

  • Require construction training and certification for New York state construction workers.
  • Establish funding streams for construction safety training programs in New York City.
  • Maintain and support laws that protect workers, such as the Scaffold Safety Law and Carlos’ Law.
  • Use existing city power to suspend or revoke licenses and construction permits for criminal contractors.

“We need to take action now to end the crisis of rising construction fatalities in New York state,” NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer said in a Jan. 31 press release. “These deaths are almost always preventable and could be deterred by passing sensible legislation in New York state and by protecting existing legislation, such as the Scaffold Safety Law, that protects workers.”

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