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Is enough done to prevent construction accidents?

Workplace safety in New York is said to be in need of loads of attention, and part of the cause for the dire situation is the lack of federal inspectors. Reportedly, there has been a significant drop in the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors. In fact, in 2014, only 71 OSHA inspectors were left to cover all industries in New York. This marked a 13 percent decrease, while 18 percent more building permits were issued in New York City. The role that unions play in the number of fatalities in construction accidents in the city seems significant.

Two days before Christmas, a construction worker lost his life on a building site in the Upper East Side. His was the 31st on-the-job death in New York City in two years. Reportedly, this worker who fell from the third floor of a building under construction failed to secure the lanyard of his fall protection to an anchor point. Authorities say he, along with 28 of the other 30 workers who died on the job, was a nonunion worker.

The fact that 90 percent of the construction companies in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program in New York are nonunion contractors seems to indicate that these employers disregard workers' safety. In contrast, workers who are union members are ensured of union support if they refuse to accept dangerous work conditions. The union representatives at each site make sure that employees do only the jobs for which they are qualified, and that proper personal protective equipment is provided.

Likely, more frequent safety inspections and better worker training would help to reduce the number of preventable accidents. Also, contractors may need tougher licensing requirements to help ensure better safety. However, when the unthinkable happens and lives are lost in construction accidents, the surviving family members are entitled to pursue death benefits through the New York workers' comp system.

Source: The New York Times, "2 Years, 31 Dead Construction Workers. New York Can Do Better.", Dominique Bravo, Jan. 16, 2017

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