A new report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health concludes that construction worksite deaths rose during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 41 workers lost their lives in job site incidents in 2020, the NYCOSH found, 13 of whom died in New York City sites.
According to the Gotham Gazette, that figure represents fewer total deaths than in 2019, but a 9% increase in the fatality rate, given that there were fewer jobs and projects after the pandemic began. In a statement about the data, the NYCOSH’s executive director, Charlene Obernauer, said: “As is the case for every single year that we’ve put out this report, construction remains in New York much more dangerous than it is in other parts of the country.”
The rise in deaths coincided with a 53% decline in federal inspections of worksites in New York, per the Gazette. “One of the biggest disappointments is that OSHA conducted it’s fewest number of inspections in the history of the agency,” Obernauer said of this news. The NYCOSH’s analysis reportedly found that the vast majority—97%—of employers whose workers died on the job site to have preexisting OSHA violations:
Breaking down the deaths, the NYCOSH’s report found that most construction workers who died in job site incidents were not union members, and that “a disproportionate number of workers killed across all sectors were Latino.” As Obernauer told the Gazette, unionized workers “tend to have more training, often through years of apprenticeship,” and have more resources to report violations and handle potential relation. Labor advocates like her attribute the rise in workplace fatality to declining union density.
As a report by Construction Dive notes, the NCOSH report argues that legislators should pass laws to establish more robust liability for negligent contractors. It cited New York’s “Scaffold Law,” which “places full liability on owners and contractors if an employee falls and doesn’t have the prescribed protective equipment.” Naturally, industry groups have advocated for lawmakers to repeal the law, arguing that liability costs are too financially burdensome for contractors. The NYCOSH, on the other hand, said in a statement to Construction Dive that fines for worker fatalities are already “too low,” and the Scaffold Law “provides a disincentive to disregard safety protections and cut corners.”