The number of safety inspections at construction sites in New York City has dropped over the last several years. Simultaneously, injuries and fatalities have increased among construction workers in the city, according to figures released in January by New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health. Deaths related to construction work in New York City jumped from 17 fatalities in 2011 to 25 fatalities in 2015. Statewide, 33 people died in construction-related accidents in 2011, while 55 construction-related deaths were reported in 2015.
Across the state, serious construction-related injuries increased from only 128 in 2011 to 435 injuries in 2015. At the same time, the number of safety inspections conducted at New York construction sites by OSHA (the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and by state inspectors dropped from 2,722 inspections in 2011 to 1,966 in 2015. That represents a 27 percent decline in the number of safety inspections at a time when the New York construction industry is booming.
Charlene Obernauer, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health, told the New York Daily News, “We really need to see and make sure that we have adequate inspections and adequate enforcement, because without that we’re going to see higher numbers of fatalities.” The number of OSHA inspectors in New York State has dropped from 82 back in 2012 to only 66 for the entire state in 2015.
According to injury attorney Michael S. Lamonsoff, “This is yet another failure by the government to properly protect laborers. The lack of inspections and decline of enforcement is directly correlated to the number of construction related deaths and catastrophic injuries in the city. Most of these life threatening accidents are due to falls that could’ve be prevented if they would just claim responsibility.”
Lamonsoff, an experienced New York City personal injury attorney, explains, “Worker safety should be top priority, not profit and speed of construction. The reduction in OSHA inspectors comes at a high price and that price is the lives and safety of our construction workers. This impact has been catastrophic for many of my clients and their families and this is completely unacceptable.”
HOW COMMON ARE FATAL FALLS IN CONSTRUCTION WORK?
With so many skyscrapers going up in the city, the most commonly-reported construction fatalities happen when workers fall to their deaths. In New York City, falls accounted for 59 percent of the fatalities related to construction in the years 2011 through 2015, while falls constituted only 36 percent of construction-related deaths nationally. Thus, according to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health, “In the past two calendar years, every two to three weeks New York City families mourn the loss of a construction worker who likely died in a preventable accident.”
The Committee reviewed 2,000 OSHA safety inspections conducted in the state in 2014 and discovered that approximately 70 of those inspections ended with citations for safety violations. The Committee also found that most construction-related fatalities in New York City occurred at nonunion construction sites – 80 percent of the 2014 fatalities and 74 of the deaths in 2015. Among contractors that OSHA classified in 2015 as “severe violators” for repeated violations, 93 percent were nonunion. “They don’t follow safety guidelines, and they say if you don’t like it, we’ll get somebody else,” said Luis Colon, who is now a member of Ironworkers Local 46.
Colon, 28, told the Daily News that he sustained a serious injury when steel rebar rods fell and landed on his leg at a nonunion construction site on West 57th Street. “They refused to call an ambulance,” Colon told the newspaper. Instead, he says that a construction foreman drove him to the hospital and told the doctors that Colon had tripped on the street, away from the construction site. Colon says that he was fired shortly thereafter, only days after the birth of his daughter.
How can construction workers be more effectively protected? New York City personal injury attorney Michael S. Lamonsoff says, “The best solution to this kind of industry-wide institutionalized mismanagement is a robust personal tort system. This serves to punish wrongdoers and incentivize good behavior, protecting those most vulnerable to abuse.”
WHY ARE CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENTS INEVITABLE?
Even when safety standards are aggressively enforced, accidents and injuries are inevitable on construction sites. A lack of safety training, dangerous physical conditions, and worn-out or defective safety equipment are just several of the causes of construction accidents. Nevertheless, in New York City, a construction worker has the right to expect that a construction site will be reasonably protected from unnecessary hazards and that workers will be protected from unnecessary risks.
When a construction worker in New York City sustains a job-related injury, does that worker have any legal recourse? Every construction accident is different, so injured New York City construction workers will require the detailed, specific legal advice and insights that an experienced New York personal injury lawyer can provide after conducting a review of the case. Most injured construction workers will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
In the state of New York, under workers’ comp, a worker injured on the job does not have to demonstrate that another party caused the injury by acting negligently. Instead, an injured worker in most cases must prove only that an injury occurred and that the injury happened in the course and scope of the worker’s employment. In New York, state law requires every employer to carry workers’ comp insurance.
WHAT DOES WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COVER?
Workers’ compensation generally covers medical bills, lost wages, and permanent or partial disability. When you receive workers’ compensation benefits, in most cases you are waiving the right to file a personal injury claim against your employer, and you will not receive damages for pain and suffering. Workers’ compensation was created primarily to cover medical costs and lost wages. Nevertheless, in some narrowly limited circumstances, an injured construction worker in New York City may be able to file a personal injury claim apart from the worker’s compensation system.
Employers are not always the only party responsible for a construction-related injury. Subcontractors, vendors, and delivery drivers are also present and active on construction sites. Even architects, engineers, and equipment manufacturers may have liability for a construction accident. When a construction worker in New York is injured through the negligence of any of these third parties, that worker may have grounds to file a personal injury claim against that third party or that party’s employer.
In New York City, for a personal injury lawsuit to succeed, the injured victim must prove the defendant – the party accused of responsibility for the injury – had a legal duty to act cautiously and reasonably, failed to and instead was negligent, and as a consequence of the negligence, the victim was injured. If you are a New York construction worker and your employer is not in compliance with federal, state, or local safety regulations, talk first with a foreman, a supervisor, or a manager. If that does not resolve your concern, call the City Department of Buildings or contact a personal injury lawyer with experience representing injured construction workers.