What to Know
- Construction-related deaths in New York state hit a 14-year high in 2016, according to a report released on Wednesday
- The study found that 71 workers died in construction-related accidents in 2016, the last year for which complete data was available
- Construction workers throughout New York state die at a rate 4.6 times that of overall workers, according to the report
Construction-related deaths in New York state hit a 14-year high in 2016, according to a new report.
The study released Wednesday by the union-backed New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health found that 71 workers died in construction-related accidents in 2016, the last year for which complete data was available.
The number of deaths is up from 55 deaths in 2015 and marks the highest number of fatalities since 2002.
Although the total number of deaths statewide increased, deaths in New York City dropped from 25 to 21 from 2015 to 2016. This reduction is attributed to efforts made by city officials to crack down on unsafe workplaces.
Charlene Obernauer, author of the report, said funding cuts have hurt the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's ability to protect workers and reduced on site inspections.
Obernauer says the state must step in to fill the void, just like the city has.
"I certainly wasn't anticipating this level of a jump in New York state," Obernauer said. "New York City has taken on the challenge and we believe New York state has to look at the same solutions."
According to the report, New York state is one of the top 10 states when it comes to the rate of construction fatalities. Construction workers throughout the state die at a rate of 4.6 times that of overall workers.
Falls are the leading cause of construction-related fatalities — accounting for almost half of all deaths in the state in the past 10 years.
One of the most recent construction-related deaths in the city took place on Jan. 23, when Jucong Wu, 33, fell nine stories down an elevator shaft at an East 24th Street construction site. Two construction workers also fell to their deaths hours apart in two separate incidents last September. One of the workers fell from the 29th floor while wearing his safety harness.
The study comes as the construction industry and some lawmakers are pushing to reform the state's century-old scaffold law. The current law requires companies and property owners to accept absolute liability for accidents involving construction workers on job sites.
Michael Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York, which represents contractors and related companies in building and heavy construction industries, said the number of deaths shows the need to update laws.
"If there's an increase in injuries and accidents, to me that's a powerful argument for changing the status quo," he said.
Marc Proferes, a 52-year-old construction worker who injured his back when a scaffold he was working on collapsed in New York City in 1997, alleged that workers feel forced to accept unsafe conditions because companies are looking to cut corners.
Safety regulators are vital, he said.
"You do what you have to do to put food on the table," he said. "But you have to have someone keeping an eye on them because it's the wild west out there."
According to Obernauer, enhanced worker training, safety regulations enforcement and stricter requirements for reporting accidents can reduce construction-related deaths.