The New York City Department of Buildings recently released its Construction Safety Report for 2019-2020. The document notes that although construction incidents that involved injuries and fatalities decreased by 24% in 2019—”the first drop in nearly a decade”—there were nonetheless twelve deaths in construction-related incidents that year. “Even one death caused by unsafe work practices on a construction site is unacceptable,” the report states, “and the Department is committed to further driving down this number.” The Department carefully reviews every construction-related incident in New York City in order to hold responsible parties accountable and prevent future fatalities and injuries. Below are brief descriptions of the 12 tragic incidents in 2019, as described by the Department of Buildings.
In April 2019, a construction crew repairing a building’s façade in midtown Manhattan “placed a standoff bracket on a C-hook to increase distance between the scaffold from the front of the building.” When they lowered the scaffold, the bracket slipped and the hook moved forward, impacting a “coping stone” on the building’s parapet wall. According to the DOB’s investigation, the stone then fell off the top of the wall, hitting and killing a construction worker on the scaffold. The DOB categorizes this incident as a “Material Failure” and found that it was caused by a failure to protect the stone and the improper use of the standoff bracket.
In April 2019, two workers were working on the roof of a 12-story building in Brooklyn Heights with no guardrails or parapet. According to the Department of Buildings, “there were high winds” on the day in question that blew one of the workers off the roof. He subsequently fell to the ground and died. The DOB categorizes this incident as a “Worker Fall” and concluded that “there was a failure to tie-off” at the worksite, which did not have guardrails as required.
In April 2019, workers were putting together a mobile crane in SoHo, Manhattan so they could lift equipment to the roof of a building. According to the review, after a counterweight was placed on the back of the crane using “two of three ropes attached to the hook,” the crane’s operator “lifted the ropes away from the weight.” The third, unattached rope “caught the lifting lug and pulled the weight into the air.” When a worker tried to jump from the crane’s deck and avoid the weight, it struck the deck and “knocked the worker to the ground,” where he died from the injuries he suffered. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Struck By” and concluded that one of the major contributing factors to the incident was a failure to remove the third, excess rope.
In May 2019, a construction team was cleaning up a job site in Midtown, Manhattan, where an overnight crew had previously installed curtain wall pieces. According to the DOB, the overnight crew had “removed the guardrails surrounding a floor opening used for hoisting in order to make their work more efficient,” but did not replace the guardrails when they were done. Consequently, a member of the cleaning crew walked backwards into the hoisting shaft, fell three stories, and died. The DOB categorized the incident as “Worker Fall” and concluded that the failure to replace the guardrails led to the incident.
In June 2019 a construction crew working on a building façade in Manhattan took a lunch break, during which a worker ascended a scaffold “to retrieve an item” and then tragically fell off the scaffold. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Worker Fall” and concluded that the scaffold exceeded 50 feet, was not permitted, was improperly installed, and lacked deck boards and guardrails, contributing to the fatal incident.
In July 2019 a construction team working in Far Rockaway, Queens was installing pre-assembled wall sections with a mobile crane when “the assembly bumped into one of the installed sections causing it to break loose from its hold down brackets” and fell on a construction worker. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Material Fall” and concluded that “inadequate sequencing, failure to shore and brace installed sections of the prefabricated panels, and lack of proper communications” contributed to the incident.
In August 2019 a construction team working in the Bronx received a “delivery of masonry materials” onto the 3rd floor deck. After the delivery, according to the DOB, the deck collapsed, causing one worker death and several injuries. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Material Failure” and found that it was caused in part by a failure to brace the deck, a lack of oversight, a failure to follow Special Inspector instructions, “lack of knowledge surrounding the requirements of cold-form steel construction and lack of bracing of the cold-form steel.”
In August 2019 a worker in a construction team in Queens was “passing materials from the back of a flatbed truck to other workers” erecting a sidewalk shed. After this, he put a foot on the shed’s crossmember and his other foot on the truck bed, then lost his balance. He “grabbed a junior beam off the shed which was not yet secured to the shed frame,” and the shed’s I-beam slid backwards and hit him in the face, causing the worker to fall into a gap between the shed and the truck. According to the DOB, “The beam followed him to the ground into the gap,” where he succumbed to his injuries. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Worker Fall” and concluded that one major contributing factor was a “failure to properly access the shed.”
In October 2019, a construction crew was cleaning up the site of a building fire in Manhattan when two workers were “standing underneath an archway spraying water on the debris piles with a hose to control the dust.” Elsewhere on the site, other construction workers were using heavy machinery like an excavator and a bobcat. According to the DOB, “the vibrations from the machinery caused an existing piece of façade to collapse” on the two workers with the hose. One of them was injured and the other was killed. The DOB categorized this incident as a “worker fall” and found that both the improper use of equipment and a failure to shore and brace the façade contributed to the incident.
In October 2019, two workers completing fireproofing work on a 38-story hotel in midtown Manhattan used a temporary elevator platform with no cab to ascend the building instead of the construction hoist. The DOB states that one of the workers dropped his cell phone as the platform approached the 32nd floor, and “laid down on the deck of the platform in an attempt to retrieve the phone.” He then became pinned between the platform and the deck of the 33rd floor and succumbed to his injuries. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Struck By” and concluded that contributing factors included a failure to secure the elevator platform and the use of the platform by an unauthorized worker.
In November 2019 a “newly hired worker” in a Brooklyn construction project was moving a stack of plywood on a building’s second-floor deck. According to the DOB, the worker “was not aware that the bottom panel of plywood, which covered a yet to be constructed stairwell, was not secured to the deck,” and after he lifted the last piece, he “walked forward and stepped into the unmarked stairway well.” The worker fell three stories and died of his injuries. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Worker Fall” and found that contributing factors included a failure to secure the cover, a lack of pre-planning, and the failure to “set up a controlled access zone.”
In December 2019 a construction crew was building a scaffold in the Bronx when one worker on the scaffold asked a worker helping him for a wood plank. According to the DOB, the latter worker then “entered a controlled access zone on the floor above and fell through the opening landing 20 feet below.” Although he was brought to a local hospital, he died of his injuries two weeks later. The DOB categorized this incident as a “Worker Fall” and concluded that contributing factors included the worker being allowed into the controlled access zone without proper tie-off equipment, as well as the failure to adequately safeguard the site.
More information on these incidents is available in the Department of Buildings’ Construction Safety Report 2019-2020.