June 27, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

James Conway of IUOE Local 14-14B
James Conway (c.) says apprentice training ensures safety on the job

New York, NY—The New York Building Congress issued a report on Monday that construction activity is booming in New York City and will generate employment gains that match 2007 levels. But on Wednesday OSHA’s regional director said that the dramatic increase in the number of fatalities may be due to an upswing in construction activity. Watch Video

Kay Gee, Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Manhattan office, presented OSHA’s annual report card on construction at the NYC District Council of Carpenters’ Labor Technical College that shows a disturbing uptick in fatalities in the period from 2008 through 2012. The event is one of several on safety and health issues that is sponsored by the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

In 2008, there were 32 construction fatalities, the highest in a 10-year period beginning in 2003. The Great Recession’s impact on the city’s construction industry dramatically curtailed construction activity from 2008 through 2011, which accompanied an attendant drop in fatalities from a high of 32 in 2008 to 6 in 2011.

The Building Congress reported that total construction spending in the city reached $30.1 billion in 2012, and is forecasting spending of $32 billion in 2013 and $37.3 billion in 2014. With a dramatic increase in fatalities in just one year, there is concern of more fatalities as construction spending and activity increases.   

“The increase in fatalities from 6 to 21 may be due to the upswing of construction in New York City,” said Gee.

Ms. Gee also noted that falls are the leading cause of death in construction. Of the 21 fatalities in the city, 8 construction workers fell to their deaths or were pronounced dead as a result of sustaining serious injury.  

“In 2010 [nationwide], there were 264 fall fatalities out of 774 total fatalities in construction. These deaths are preventable.”

James Conway, director of industry advancement, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-14B, was one of several union leaders to join Ms. Gee on a panel to discuss the steps they can take to ensure safety remains paramount in the construction industry.

According to Mr. Conway, his union and other building trades’ unions offer the best of apprenticeship training programs bar none that go a long way in reducing accidents and fatalities.

“Apprenticeship training does improve safety on the job site because apprentices learn from teachers in a classroom who teach them skills and standard operating procedures and then receive constructive feedback from journeymen who have years of experience in their respective trades,” said Conway.

Lenore Friedlaender, of 32BJ SEIU and a campaign director of Build Up NYC, a coalition of different building trades’ unions and 32BJ opposing the proliferation on non-union construction in the city, said that the city’s construction industry is in a race to the bottom because there are a growing number of employers who skirt thorough health and safety training and typically pay lower wages.

“They are undermining the standards for everybody. We believe there should be a social contract, that everybody has a responsibility to create good jobs and help build a strong middle class in this country, including some of the largest real estate developers and construction companies,” said Friedlaender.

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