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Sep
2016
19

One Third of NYC Construction Deaths Went “Unrecorded” by the de Blasio Administration in 2015

NYC Building Trades Pres. LaBarbera has butted heads with Mayor de Blasio on issues ranging from wages to safety

NYC Building Trades Pres. LaBarbera has butted heads with Mayor de Blasio on issues ranging from wages to safety


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Not all deaths are created equal. This holds especially true in the City of New York.

Of the 17 construction-related deaths reported last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), six went unrecorded by the de Blasio administration. It turns out the Department of Buildings, which regulates construction in the city, only tracks fatalities that involve a threat to public safety, which essentially means it only “counts” deaths that could happen to non-construction workers:

“If a worker cuts their hand on a circular saw, the resulting injury is a labor issue (related to training, supervision, and proper protective gear),” a department spokesman explained in an email. “It would not be considered a construction accident that DOB has jurisdiction over.”

[…] The six fatalities that the city didn’t count include a military veteran who fell down an elevator shaft, a construction safety coordinator crushed by a crane, an ironworker who fell from a ladder and a truck driver caught in the driveshaft of his concrete mixer.

The DOB isn’t the only municipal agency that has failed to investigate construction deaths. Four of the six untracked fatalities went unexamined by the Department of Investigation despite the formation of a “Construction Deaths Task Force” last year. The lack of oversight has left union leaders in New York incensed:

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, an umbrella group for construction unions, said union workers feel more free to walk away from dangerous conditions.

“If they are in a situation that they believe is perilous … they have recourse in saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’” LaBarbera said. “They can go to the shop steward and there’s someone there to represent them and protect them.”

“A death is a death,” Building Trades’ Employers Association President Louis Coletti told Crain’s New York. “When you’re calculating how many people died on a construction site, they all should be counted.”

OSHA issued serious violations for 15 of the 17 construction-related fatalities. Of those cases, 14 out of 15 involved nonunion contractors.

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