Job-related fatalities in New York City are not constant from year to year (there were 191 such deaths in 1993, and just 56 in 2013) but, year after year, construction-related injuries and deaths run ahead of transportation deaths as the #1 and #2 causes of workplace mayhem.
Since the inception of OSHA (enacted in 1970) workplace fatalities have been reduced by about 60%, while the American workforce has more than doubled. Those of you who imagine that an OSHA inspector lurks behind every lamp-post may be shocked to learn, however, that New York, the nation’s fourth most-populous state with more than 19 million inhabitants, was covered by just 66 federal OSHA inspectors statewide in 2015.
Construction-related fatalities in New York City rose from 17 in 2011, to 25 in 2015, and injuries on construction sites rose from 128 in 2011, to 435 in 2015 statewide. The numbers of OSHA inspections in New York dropped every year from 2011 through 2015, with an overall reduction of 27%.
While most construction employers take their safety responsibilities seriously, some, regrettably, do not.
One incident from 2015 involved a 28-year-old foreman on a high-rise construction jobsite in Manhattan. This worker sustained severe injuries when rebar fell on his leg. His employer sent a supervisor with the injured employee to the hospital, to report to the doctors, falsely, that the injury resulted from an off-site slip, trip, and fall. The injured worker, a new father, was discharged just days following the incident.
Since anticipated budget cuts appear likely to bring about additional reductions in federal OSHA enforcement, state and local governments, and construction industry employers, are going to have to take up the slack.
Over the past several years, local authorities in New York City, notably the City Council, have taken a number of steps to try to stem the increases in the numbers of deaths and injuries accompanying the post-recession building boom in the City.
One such measure, which took effect in November 2017, is Local Law 81, which expands the role of the construction superintendent, while increasing the range of projects on which a superintendent is legally required.
Prior to the effective date of Local Law 81, a site safety manager was required only during the construction or demolition of “major buildings,” defined as those over ten stories high. With the advent of Local Law 81, a construction superintendent is now required on buildings having less than ten stories (except one to three-family homes) that meet any of the following criteria:
Public Law 81 also assigns expanded responsibilities, many of them safety-related, to building superintendents. Generally, the superintendent is now responsible for the following:
During the construction superintendent’s daily visit, he or she must inspect all areas and floors where construction or demolition work, and ancillary activity, is occurring, and do all of the following:
In addition, the construction superintendent has the following responsibilities under Local Law 81:
In part because of the complexity of OSHA construction standards, and the limited effectiveness of safety training of the rank-and-file, we have long advocated providing extensive safety training and substantial responsibility for OSHA compliance to superintendents and other field supervisors. That approach is furthered by the increased responsibility for construction safety assigned to construction superintendents by Local Law 81.