Despite work stoppages during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s construction industry remained one of the most dangerous in the country in 2020. In fact, a report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) found that New York’s construction fatality rate actually rose 9% in 2020, with construction workers accounting for nearly a quarter of New York State’s work-related deaths.
NYCOSH found that non-union construction sites were the most dangerous, accounting for almost four out of five construction deaths, and that Latino construction workers also faced a disproportionate risk of death on the job.
The increase in construction deaths coincides with the fewest number of OSHA inspections in the agency’s history – even though OSHA fines increased. NYCOSH noted that OSHA violations do not prevent contractors from receiving government subsidies, eliminating a potentially significant source of motivation for improved worksite safety.
In addition to reporting on the crisis of construction deaths and noting some possible causes, NYCOSH made a number of suggestions to address the problem. These included requiring construction training and certification for workers; preserving important legal protections like the Scaffold Law, expanding criminal prosecutions for construction deaths where appropriate, increasing New York City’s enforcement efforts, and strengthening OSHA’s mandate (and budget).
Although the law provides benefits for injured construction workers and their families through the workers’ comp system and personal injury lawsuits, it can never restore a worker to his or her family – so more must be done to prevent fatal construction accidents before they happen.