New York City Construction Accidents and Worker Safety

Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Department of Buildings (DOB) commissioner Robert LiMandri released a statement noting that while construction jobs increased 8 percent in 2011, New York construction accidents fell by 18 percent.

They pointed to the multiple new safety laws that were enacted since crane accidents killed three construction workers in 2008 and two firefighters in 2007.

The Department of Buildings had implemented a series of initiatives to improve construction safety. The DOB statistics demonstrate the improvements:

  • Construction-related injuries decreased from 165 in 2010 to 152 in 2011, a decline of 7.8 percent and 37 percent lower than in 2009.
  • Construction-related accidents fell 18 percent from 157 in 2010 to 128 in 2011, a reduction of 18 percent and a 41 percent decrease when compared to 2009.

New Construction Safety Requirements

Mayor Bloomberg's news release pointed to specific changes that had improved the construction industry's safety climate in New York City:

  • "First revision of the City's construction codes in 40 years, which took full effect in 2009 and expanded safety requirements during the construction process;
  • More than 25 new construction safety laws, including a smoking ban on all construction sites, mandatory training for all tower crane workers and requiring the uniform color coding and regular pressure testing of standpipe sprinkler systems;
  • Creation of a Stalled Sites Unit that has conducted more than 14,000 inspections of stalled construction sites to ensure properties are maintained in a safe manner;
  • Creation of a site safety program for major construction projects that allows contractors to submit plans for an enhanced review by Department experts; and
  • Launch of Experience Is Not Enough, a citywide safety campaign to encourage construction workers to use proper fall protection, such as safety harnesses, guardrails or nets."

A Right, Not A Privilege

For workers, a safe construction site is of paramount importance, because they pay the ultimate price when safety standards are ignored or flouted. In 2011, five workers died in construction workplace accidents that resulted from violations of safety regulations.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman was at a T.F. Cornerstone construction site in Long Island City, where Mayor Bloomberg made the announcement, and he was quoted as saying "Both the city and the state recognize that a safe workplace is not a privilege, it's a right."

Critics of government regulation often complain that the regulations stifle business and kill jobs. In this announcement, Mayor Bloomberg was able to demonstrate that regulations can be used effectively to foster economic development and not negatively impact jobs, and keep jobs from killing workers

Safer Job Sites Help Construction Firms

In 2011, the DOB issued 5,100 partial and full Stop Work Orders on sites where it found unsafe workplaces. In all of the circumstance, time (and money) was lost while the construction firm and the DOB worked out how to bring the job site into compliance with the violated regulations.

In the worst case scenario, as with the five workers who died in construction site accidents, significant amounts of time may be lost due to the necessary DOB and insurance investigations after the accident.

Because of the puzzle-like nature of construction projects, where dozens of subcontractors may be staged along the timeline of the project, a disruption of a few days or a week's time can cause havoc for all subsequent trades. And the bigger the project, the more expensive the disruption.

Liability For Construction Site Injuries

After the project restarts, with the safety violations corrected, there is still the issue of liability for the accident. While construction workers are covered by workers' compensation insurance for injuries caused by their direct employer, if they were injured by the negligence of other contractors or other third-parties, they have a right to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for their losses.

A further incentive for owners and general contractors to maintain safe job sites is that any injuries or deaths caused by safety regulation violations would impose strict liability for those injuries or death.

New York Labor Law 240(1) states, "[t]he failure to provide safety devices constitutes a per se violation of the statute and subjects owners and contractors to absolute liability, as a matter of law, for any injuries that result from such failure since workers are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from accident."

If you have suffered injuries due to a construction site accident, it is important to speak to a New York personal injury attorney to discuss your case. A lawyer can determine the party responsible for your injuries and help you take action to hold them accountable for your losses.