(Albeit through the device of humor, the above video truly projects the seriousness with which we all view of construction site injuries.)
From the horrible spate of construction site accidents in New York City in the past year, it would seem that building higher may be better but it is definitely more dangerous. According to New York City Buildings Department records: the accident rate at high-rise sites – buildings 15 stories or higher – has more than doubled. 2007 closed out with 52 serious injuries (up from a total of 32 in 2006) and 5 deaths of construction workers – compared to one fatality in 2006. This upward trend of construction site accidents continues statewide but for the sake of brevity, we will use NYC stats.)
The cross- and sideways finger-pointing by the politicians, buildings inspectors and general contractors aside, one clear fact rises from all of these tragedies: the jobs are being rushed. With everyone from Louis J. Coletti (president of the Building Trades Employers Association) to various BID representatives to such construction company heavies as Bovis, weighing in, the excuses offered for expedited construction are many and varied:
- Developers often offer attractive incentives for rush service
- Employers and neighbors are construction noise weary
- The rising cost of materials and labor
- A shortage of crane operators forcing the hiring of those operators not fully licensed
An example of this rabid push for expedited construction by developers, at the risk of life and limb, is what is commonly known in the New York construction scene as the “two-day cycle” in which contractors routinely pour a concrete floor every two days at a site, as opposed to the standard four or five day cycle elsewhere. Concrete-related accidents account for the vast majority of construction site incidents.
Under the current New York State Labor Law, the owner and general contractor are strictly responsible for injury to a worker on the job site and that from an elevation risk (e.g. – a scaffold collapse, a faulty ladder, materials falling and striking the worker). Also, the injury must arise from ongoing construction, remodeling or demolition – as opposed to maintenance – work. An interesting proposal being floated about (and surely one that will generate curious if not surprising opposition) is to have both the general contractor and the concrete company maintain insurance for work at a construction site. (Currently, in NYS, only the GC is required to post such insurance bond.)
Investigators are now focusing not only on the deaths and the safety precautions issues in high-rise construction site accidents but also the hiring processes employed by the GCs. Several officials (and the Manhattan DA’s office) have questioned why certain GCs repeatedly employ the same subcontractors, especially those with inferior hiring practices and horrendous safety records. As professional investigators in the field, we have to make thorough use of our ability to detect these hiring and subcontracting trends. (Generally, state, city and local filing repositories are good places to dig but also keep an eye on user generated original content sites such as workinglife.org and gangbox.wordpress.com.)
Let’s hope 2008 is a much better year for safety and life for the construction industry but now is the time to proactively demand better oversight and more stringent safety protocols at all New York State job sites.
BNI Operatives: Street smart; web savvy.