NEW YORK, N.Y.— This month, city inspectors halted work on more than 300 construction sites in a “zero tolerance” campaign begun after three construction workers fell to their deaths during an eight-day span in May.
Since the campaign began June 1, the Department of Buildings announced June 28, it has inspected more than 2,100 of the city’s roughly 35,000 construction sites, ordered work completely or partially stopped at 322 of them, and issued more than 1,100 safety violations. The inspectors, the department said, are concentrating on the “larger and more complex” jobs and on whether they “are in full compliance with their required site safety plans, workers on site are properly using safety harnesses where required, and that any controlled-access zones at the sites are properly secured to prevent falls.”
Falls have been the largest single cause of fatalities on the job in the past two years, according to the department’s 2019-2020 Construction Safety Report, also released on June 28. They accounted for six of the 12 deaths in in 2019 and four out of eight in 2020. In five of the 10 deaths from falls, the department cited failure to install guardrails as a contributing factor, and in three, it said that the worker killed had not been properly harnessed.
“Time and time again, the failure to follow basic safety regulations led to deaths and injuries on building construction work sites, affirming that these incidents were in fact preventable,” the report said.
The jobs shut down were all over the city, from Coney Island and the Rockaways to Williamsbridge in the north Bronx. More than 80% were new buildings, with virtually all the rest major alterations. More than one-third of them — 113 out of the 322 — were in Brooklyn, with 83 in Manhattan, 69 in Queens, 54 in the Bronx, and three in Staten Island.
The jobs halted for fall-risk violations included 48 Bleecker St. in Bushwick, a new four-story apartment building where a full stop-work order was issued June 2. The reasons, according to the Buildings Department, included missing guardrails, no site safety supervision, and no record of a pre-shift safety meeting. It was lifted June 23 after another inspection found that the safety issues had been resolved, but a separate partial stop-work order issued June 11 for steel work and the balconies is still in effect.
At 149 West 9th St., a new four-story apartment building in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood, all work was stopped on June 4, for violations including the general contractor’s registration being expired and workers on a man-lift without safety harnesses. It was lifted on June 15, after a new contractor took responsibility over the permit, and subsequent inspections found that all safety issues had been resolved.
At 26-12 4th St. in Queens, a seven-story condo building under construction on the Astoria waterfront, a partial stop-work order was issued June 16, for workers without safety harnesses. It was lifted three days later after another inspection found the issues had been resolved.
A few blocks southeast, at a five-story building under construction at 14-43 31st Ave., a partial stop-work order was issued June 8, for no fall protection measures for workers on the roof and the supported scaffold. It was lifted June 22.
At 3641 Johnson Ave. in the Bronx, an eight-story building under construction in Riverdale, a partial stop-work order was issued June 24, for reasons including not warning workers about hazards during the pre-shift meeting, failing to maintain a supported scaffold, and failing to provide fall protection measures at the rear and side of the site. It is still in effect.
The Buildings Department does not keep track of whether the sites shut down were union or nonunion jobs, a spokesperson told LaborPress. It collects that information only for reported injuries, as required by a 2017 city law. However, the five buildings the department mentioned as examples are likely nonunion jobs, as they are all under 10 stories and outside Manhattan.
Most of the 131 injuries involving construction workers reported during the first four months of this year were on jobs that used nonunion labor, though: 40 on fully nonunion jobs; 29 on union jobs, including two not related to work; and 60 on “open shop” sites that use a mix of union and nonunion workers.
The 2017 injury-reporting law was one of several measures enacted in response to the rising number of injuries and deaths during the building boom that began as the city recovered from the Great Recession. The Buildings Department also increased its force of inspectors by one-eighth, and in 2019 established a Construction Safety Compliance unit to do surprise inspections. It issued 11,809 full or partial stop-work orders in 2018 and 14,177 in 2019, with the number of violations cited rising from about 188,000 to more than 214,000, according to the Construction Safety Report.
The number of construction-related injuries declined from 761 in 2018 to 595 in 2019 — “the first drop in worker injuries… in nearly a decade,” the report said. The number of injuries fell to 502 in 2020, a year when most construction was halted for two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This report provides a tremendous amount of information that is useful as we analyze health and safety among construction workers,” Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, said in the Buildings Department announcement. “We are encouraged by the numbers indicating that construction worker fatalities are decreasing in New York City and applaud the New York City Department of Buildings on this initiative.”
“This comprehensive report makes clear that construction accidents can be prevented by deploying strategies that enhance site safety awareness, establish rigorous health and safety protocols, and ensure all construction workers receive robust worksite safety training,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “Through fully understanding what works when it comes to keeping workers safe, the industry can ensure that all contractors are held accountable for operating responsible worksites.”