This week, LaborPress’s Joe Maniscalco had the sad task of reporting the the first construction worker death of the year. With barely the first month of the new

Symbolic black hardhats and coffins symbolize the problem with non-union construction.
NYC construction workers carry mock coffins to highlight deaths in the industry.

year gone, 33 year-old Jucong Wu’s body lay bent and broken at the bottom of an elevator shaft. That’s not only tragic, it’s unforgivable.  Yet unforgivable is not the same as inexplicable.  We need to know why this worker died.

When we ask that question, it is not enough to simply hear back from city officials that he was not “tied off.” There is another, more important question that needs to be asked. Why wasn’t he tied off? There could be a variety of answers to that question, all of which should come under consideration.

Was this worker properly trained?

It’s fine to have legislation on the books that say all New York City construction workers must undergo a minimum amount of training. Just recently that number was raised (after much pushback from REBNY) from the basic 10 hour OSHA certification to a new 55 hour minimum. Great. Is there any record of Mr. Wu’s training? Did anyone ask to see it? Is this just another sad story, or will the city follow up on it?

Was this worker provided the correct personal protective equipment?

Even if the time and money were spent to hold the required training sessions, the sad fact is that all the power point presentations and multiple choice quizzes in the world do you very little good if the proper equipment is not issued to you on the job.

Was there actually a culture of safety on the job?

This question may be a little more difficult to answer, but it remains every bit as important. It is easy to meet the letter of the law by having papers on file and shiny new safety equipment on display in lockers. But meeting the spirit of the law is something else, entirely. The culture of safety has to be established from the top down. The message has to be sent that the surest way to get fired is not by taking the time to work safely, but by taking short-cuts that endanger either yourself, your coworkers, or both.

While it may seem obvious to most of us, perhaps some developers in our city need to hear this again: Death on the job, regardless of occupation or specific task, is unacceptable. I say this because this is not the first time a death has occurred on one one of Mr. Chang’s projects. In September of2014 Rodalfo Vasquez-Galian, a 27  year-old construction worker from Jersey City, was pronounced dead at the scene of an accident that took place during the construction of one of Mr. Chang’s hotels, at 326 West 37th St.

Now Mr. Chang isn’t the only multi-millionaire developer in New York whose non-union contractors allow the death toll of people in the trades to increase in a steady basis. He is, however, the most recent and that means his jobs, his practices, principles and personnel are due for some close scrutiny. How many construction worker deaths are too many in 2018? We’ve already reached that limit with Mr. Wu.


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