An alarming report issued recently by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), Price of Life: 2015 Report on Construction Fatalities in NYC, highlights how dangerous construction sites are for workers. Every day, our law firm files workers' compensation claims for workers seriously injured on unsafe and unwatched construction sites. It seems that the only time government work safety enforcement officials seem to care is after a worker dies on the job. I think this is disgraceful. New York workers' deserve better.
Some of the disturbing findings in the 2015 report are:
- Latino workers and other immigrants have the highest rate of death on construction sites. Over 60% of deadly falls on construction sites involved Latino or immigrant workers. This is clear evidence that both Latinos and non-union workers are being used as guinea pigs on construction sites.
- Non-union workers have a greater risk of death than union workers. 79% of deaths from construction site falls happened on non-union work sites. This is clear evidence that employers are willing to risk worker safety (and lives!) when there is no union watching and protecting workers.
- However, even safety on union worker construction sites needs vast improvement. Most construction workers are represented by unions and unfortunately our law firm files more workers' compensation claims for NYC union construction workers than non-union members. This is most likely because non-union members fear that they will lose their jobs if they file a workers' compensation claim. Workers hurt on the job need to know that Section 120 of the New York Workers' Compensation Law protects their jobs from employer retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim.
- Although construction work makes up only 4% of the jobs in New York State, it accounts for 20% of all worker deaths! Partially this is because of the inherent danger involved in construction site work, but it is also because many employers do not make preventing worker injuries a priority. Too often our clients who are maimed on the job tell us that no one from the employer even contacts the family or worker after a serious accident and injury. The first person they hear from is an insurance investigator. This is simply inhumane and shows that many employers treat their employees like disposable widgets easily replaced by the next unknowing victim. No wonder injured workers often seek immediate assistance from workers' compensation lawyers. Besides doctors providing medical care, we are the first human beings offering them help to pay their rent or mortgage.
- Deadly falls from elevated heights on construction sites make up over 50% of workers' compensation death claims in New York State. Over 71% of all injuries on construction sites in NYC are the result of falls from elevated heights. Thanks to the protections afforded to seriously injured workers by the New York State Labor Law, many of these workers can collect additional compensation if injured when falling off ladders and scaffolds. Quite simply, employers, general contractors, developers and land owners must work harder to make sure all ladders and scaffold equipment on the job are in proper working order and that all safety precautions are being followed. It is unacceptable that 50% of all New York Workers' Compensation death claims happen on construction sites. Construction sites should not have to be compared to war zones.
- Through May of 2015, there have already been nine construction site related worker deaths in New York City. That's nine too many. Such accidents often make the pages of the local papers, but we see few follow up reports on the impact the loss of a loved one has on a family. The New York Workers' Compensation Board still only provides a $6000 funeral benefit for the death of a worker. Given the current cost of funeral services, this might get you only a pine casket. With inflation, this benefit may only provide for a paupers' grave in the future. The New York State legislature should work to increase the workers' compensation funeral benefit so that families can give their loved ones a proper funeral.
Bottom Line - we all must do more to insure more safety on New York construction sites to prevent on the job deaths. Worker safety and prevention of accidents needs to be a priority. Workers are NOT disposable widgets.