May 12, 2015 | News Story

NYCOSH Report: Price of Life: 2015 Report on Construction Fatalities in NYC

Worker Safety Advocates Unveil Alarming Findings in “Price of Life: 2015 Report on Construction Fatalities in NYC”

Researchers Find Construction Sites Poorly Regulated, Unsafe, with Vast Majority of Fatalities Involving Immigrant, Latino Workers

Children of Workers Killed on Construction Sites Join Workers, Safety Advocates, Union Members, Elected Officials to Demand Safe Worksites, Strong Workplace Safety Protections

NEW YORK – On Monday, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health unveiled alarming findings from their latest study, “Price of Life: 2015 Report on Construction Fatalities in NYC,” outlining the true conditions of the city’s poorly regulated, unsafe construction sites. Researchers found that construction accounts for a disproportionate number of accidents, with the vast majority of fatalities occurring at non-union sites and immigrant and/or Latino workers.

Monica Velazquez, whose father Delfino Velazquez was killed when a roof collapsed on him while working at an auto dealership on Staten Island in November, joined worker safety advocates, union members, and elected officials and demanded safer worksites and strong workplace safety protections.

“I miss my father every single day and my heart aches because I know his death was entirely avoidable,” said Monica Velazquez. “I will never see him again, and for what? Because his employer didn’t care about safety and knowingly put his life at risk. I am here today to honor my dad’s memory and demand better protections for construction workers. How many more will have to die before we start to hold these criminal employers accountable for what they’ve done?”

The report’s key findings include:

Though construction accounts for less than 4% of  employment, it represents 20% of on the job fatalities in New York State.

Falls from deadly heights make up half of the construction fatalities in New York State and 71% of all injuries in New York City.

Immigrant and/or Latino workers and non-union workers are at the greatest risk of death – in 2012 79% of fatal fall construction accidents occurred at nonunion construction sites and 60% of fatal fall victims were immigrant and/or Latino.

Violations in New York are routine – two-thirds of OSHA construction inspections in New York between 2010 and 2012 resulted in citations for “serious” safety violations. Despite this, city agencies continue to work with criminal contractors, 89% of contractors working on affordable housing projects have OSHA violations.

OSHA has only 71 inspectors to monitor all worksites in all industries in New York City, meaning most sites are never inspected until a worker is injured or killed.

OSHA fines for criminal contractors are little more than a slap on the wrist – the average penalty for fatal height-related construction accidents in 2012 was only $7,620.

“The findings are clear – New York City has an epidemic of construction site deaths and it has to stop,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of NYCOSH. “There have been nine workers killed in the city this year and it’s only May. We need to talk about how we can improve safety and crack down on criminal contractors and employers, instead of looking the other way or listening to lobbyists who’d prefer to cut corners on safety. Innocent workers should not have to die so that we can build our city’s infrastructure.”

As initial steps to increase safety and save lives, advocates called for public agencies to: stop awarding taxpayer dollars and public contracts to repeat safety offenders; prosecutors to use existing criminal statutes to go after contractors who violate safety regulations; increased resources for OSHA inspectors to spot problems before they become fatalities; and elected officials to keep a strong Scaffold Safety Law, which holds those who control construction sites responsible if they fail to provide proper safety equipment and a worker is injured or killed as a result.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the 100,000 member Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York said, “The NYCOSH data is unambiguous.  It strongly and clearly confirms that nonunion developers and contractors are putting the safety of workers and the general public at risk. While construction can be a very dangerous occupation and we are not immune to accidents ourselves, the rigorous training and safety programs administered by the unionized building trades ensure that our workers are the best trained, most skilled and safest in the world.”

Lenore Friedlaender, executive director of Build Up NYC said, “Developers and contractors have a responsibility to the workers who make their success possible and the communities where they build. Cutting corners on proper safety practices can lead to more accidents in and around construction sites. Every construction worker should have access to comprehensive training in order to prevent accidents, injuries and fatalities. Access to training and apprenticeship programs keep workers and the general public safe, and it creates opportunities for advancement and real careers.”

About the New York Committee for Occupational Safe and Health

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) is a membership organization of workers, unions, community-based organizations, workers’ rights activists, and health and safety professionals. NYCOSH uses training, education, and advocacy to improve health and safety conditions in our workplaces, our communities, and our environment. Founded 35 years ago on the principle that workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are preventable, NYCOSH works to extend and defend every person’s right to a safe and healthy workplace.