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Increasing construction fatalities prompt cries for better safety

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The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health has called for better safety measures after its annual report revealed an increase in construction fatalities in New York.

Meanwhile, the New York City Council also introduced a legislative package that includes proposed rules about reporting construction injuries and fatalities, requiring site-specific safety orientations and penalizing companies for aggravated violations of construction codes.

NYCOSH presented the findings of its report, “Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State,” on Thursday to the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, the Building and Constructions Trades Council, city council members and community organizations.

According to the report, 464 construction workers died in New York between 2006 and 2015, and fatality rates have trended up 40% between 2011 and 2015. Falls are the leading cause of fatalities, accounting for 49% of construction deaths in the state and 59% in the city, the report found.

“Employing approximately (4%) of the state’s workforce, the construction industry sees one-fifth of workplace fatalities,” the report said. “Construction is the most dangerous industry in the country with the highest number of fatalities; and the second deadliest industry for workers in New York, after the agriculture industry (which includes agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting).”

In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found safety violations at two-thirds of the site inspections it conducted in New York in 2014, NYCOSH said. A high percentage of sites where fatalities occurred — 87% in 2014 and 90% in 2015 — were found to have safety violations when inspected by OSHA, the report said.

The report pointed to non-union construction sites as especially dangerous for workers. Eighty percent of construction fatalities occurred at non-union sites in 2014, and 74% of fatalities were at non-union sites in 2015, according to the report.

Latino workers face a disproportionate risk of dying in construction incidents, according to the report, which cited OSHA data that shows 57% of construction workers who died in 2015 were Latino even though they comprise only 30% of the construction workforce.

NYCOSH outlined recommendations it is seeking to protect construction workers in New York, including requiring OSHA’s 10-Hour Construction training program or equivalent training for all construction workers as well as apprenticeship programs on large sites; preservation of New York’s Scaffold Safety Law, which holds building site owners and employers liable for worker injuries and deaths resulting from unsafe conditions at elevated worksites; and passage of legislation related to construction insurance transparency, elevator safety and tougher penalties against contractors found negligent in a worker’s death.

NYCOSH also called for expanded monitoring and enforcement of construction sites, including criminal prosecution of contractors, and revocation of licenses and permits for contractors convicted of a felony related to a worker fatality.