May 12, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Statistics from both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, clearly indicate that non-union construction sites are much more dangerous than union job sites — but the Department of Buildings isn’t particularly interested in understanding why.
DOB Commissioner Rick Chandler told a city council committee hearing convened on Monday morning that determining whether a construction site is union or non-union is “not something that the agency typically discerns when we do a response to an accident.”
“We don’t ask that question,” the DOB chief said.
New York City is experiencing an almost 18 percent increase in new construction since the last building boom back in 2008. Last year, the DOB conducted 94,000 inspections in an effort to keep pace, but construction-related injuries are still up a whopping 27 percent.
And those accidents are becoming deadlier. More people have now died in New York City construction-related accidents than in all of last year.
Nevertheless, Commissioner Chandler warned Councilman Jumaane William’s Committee on Housings and Buildings that cataloguing union and non-union job sites would somehow bog down his agency.
“I think if we were to go that route, there would be serious implications [on] the effectiveness of doing our job,” Chandler said. “You collect the information and then what?”
Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley [D-30th District], was incredulous.
“We need the DOB to be more active,” Councilmember Crowley said. “What are you doing?
OSHA — the other governmental agency charged with investigating construction safety — does, in fact, note the union or non-union status of job sites.
Terry Moore, business agent, Metallic Lathers & Reinforcing Ironworkers Union Local 46, also testified at Monday’s hearing, and called on the city to establish a new independent task force to investigate contractors and jobsites with the highest risks of deaths and serious accidents.
“It is time to institute a new enforcement system, one that will make the best use of all the available resources to direct regulators to exactly where they are most needed,” Moore said in a statement.
There are presently only 330 DOB inspectors tasked with canvassing all of the construction going on throughout New York City. Another 38 inspectors are expected to be hired in the coming year, and the agency is hoping for additional money in the budget to hire more.
“We will do better with more inspectors,” Chandler promised.
A 2014 report from City Comptroller's Office found that the DOB has only implemented a handful of recommendations outlined in an earlier High Risk Construction Oversight study.
Timothy Hogan, deputy commissioner of enforcement, testified that there is disagreement about some of the 2008 recommendations, while others "need more study."
In additions to growing dangers in the industry, Monday’s oversight hearing on construction safety took on greater urgency because of the de Blasio administration’s drive to build or preserve record numbers of affordable housing around the city.
Commissioner Chandler testified that the DOB is committed to moving the affordable housing project forward.
Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez [D-10th District], however, charged that there are two many “bad actors” being hired to do the work.
“The bad actors are everywhere,” the Manhattan lawmaker said. “This cannot be business as usual.”