A recent New York Times article noted a construction accident in the last two years killed 31 construction workers in New York City. Compare this two years 2015-2016, to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1869-1883, which involved both new and extremely dangerous construction methods, yet only 27 workers died during its construction.
Records show that 28 of the 31 construction deaths in the last two years involved working on a nonunion site. Its documented that in some cases safety equipment was available but not being used or safety guidelines enforced. Safety devices and procedures including training programs and safety rules, and “fall protection” systems like nets and railings are there for a reason. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration 29 CFR 1926 has protocols designed to keep workers safe.
The Times op-ed piece stated that according to records kept by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit group that lobbies for worker safety, of the city contractors that were inspected from 2009 to 2014, 73 percent had at least one “serious” OSHA violation, mostly of “fall protection” standards — precisely the violation responsible for the most deaths. During this time, the number of construction injuries and fatalities has soared. The Department of Buildings recorded a 250 percent increase in construction injuries from 2011 through 2015, with construction fatalities increasing each year as well.
According to the Times article, the majority of preventable accidents occur at nonunion work sites. Nonunion contractors make up 90 percent of the construction companies listed in OSHA’s “Severe Violator Enforcement Program” for New York, a list of recalcitrant employers that have endangered workers with “indifference to their occupational safety and health obligations through willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.”
In general, the article argues union workers are safer because they are better trained and know they will be protected if they refuse to work under dangerous conditions. Building trade unions have apprenticeship programs that teach workers the required and recommended safety protocols. Further, every union work site has a shop steward who serves as an advocate for workers with questions or concerns about their safety. If a contractor or foreperson tries to cut corners, the workers can, and will, refuse to put themselves in jeopardy. Clearly there are conscientious and safe nonunion construction operations. But on the whole, union outfits have established a track record of competence and safety that speaks for itself.
McCormick Law Office has used OSHA regulations to prove safety violation claims in the context of Wisconsin workers compensation cases. While we do go for comp benefits, disability payments or death benefits are of little consolation in most construction accidents. Construction safety prevents construction accidents.