New York City

As construction booms, City Council bills seek to increase worker safety

A parade of coffins outside City Hall

December 11, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Jumaane Williams, chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, read a list of the names of workers who have died at construction sites over the last two years. Photo by Mary Frost
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As construction workers rallied with coffins outside City Hall on Thursday, a City Council committee considered laws that would increase safety at construction sites.

Bills under consideration would create a task force to assess safety risks at construction sites and increase penalties for construction companies that worked without permits and violated stop work orders.

At the hearing, Councilmember Jumaane Williams (Canarsie, East Flatbush, Midwood), chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, read a list of the names of workers who have died at construction sites over the last two years.

An increase in construction injuries and deaths, out of proportion to the overall surge in construction, prompted the bills. While the number of construction permits has increased by 17.5 percent since 2008, the number of construction-related injuries rose by roughly 27 percent, according to the New York Building Congress figures cited in the committee report.

These injuries include not construction worker injuries, but injuries to pedestrians and passing motorists.

Rick D. Chandler, the city’s buildings commissioner, said that construction injuries are up 78 percent this year, an increase he called disturbing. He said, however, that many construction accidents could be avoided by workers and managers following the approved plan.

Councilmembers peppered him with questions about the city issuing construction permits to violators and the lack of penalties with teeth.

Chandler said the city has established a Risk Management Office and was hiring almost a hundred new inspectors and equipping them with smart phones, tablets and routing software, which would increase the number of inspections.

He also said the city would focus more attention on buildings up to nine stories high, “where a disproportionate number of accidents occur,” and take “proactive disciplinary actions” against habitual offenders.

At the rally, Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, told roaring workers that they shouldn’t take dangerous conditions anymore.

Public Advocate Letitia James roused the crowd when she said she would fight for union jobs with good wages and safe work conditions.

Sixteen black coffins were lined up in front of the speakers’ platform. Councilmember Costa Constantinides (Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights) said, “We have to make sure these men and women didn’t die in vain.”

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