New York City construction worker deaths increased for the third straight year in 2022, according to the annual “Deadly Skyline” report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).

The report coincides with a new review from the NYS Comptroller stating that the City’s Department of Buildings has failed to implement recommended safety reforms aimed at keeping construction sites safe.

Construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in New York City. For maximum protection under New York’s Scaffold Safety Law, construction workers and their families may need to hire a construction accident lawyer.

City Construction Deaths Increase for Third Consecutive Year

NYCOSH has released its yearly construction fatality report, “Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State.” The report looked at data from 2022 and found an increase in NYC construction worker deaths for the third year in a row.

In 2022, 24 construction workers died in NYC, up from 20 in 2021 and 12 in 2020. City construction worker deaths continued their upward trajectory even as the construction fatality rate decreased statewide, the report shows. Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Nonunion job sites are especially dangerous. At the 19 OSHA-investigated fatality sites in NYC, 90% of the construction workers who died were non-union. Brooklyn led the way with eight fatality investigations, followed by Manhattan and Queens (four each), the Bronx (two), and Staten Island (one).
  • Latinx workers more likely to die on the job. About 1 out of 10 construction workers in New York State are Latinx, but these workers made up more than 25% of worker fatalities.
  • OSHA enforcement is down. OSHA construction site inspections increased 24% compared to 2021 but are 29% below pre-pandemic numbers. OSHA press releases, which help bring attention to worker deaths and injuries, are also down.

“We see a decrease in agency enforcement and a trend of increasing fatalities in New York City, and of course we are concerned. We write this report to sound the alarm on construction safety and to remind New Yorkers that behind every fatality is a whole person who is a part of our communities.”

NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer.

To address rising New York City construction worker deaths, NYCOSH recommends the following:

  • Improve construction worker safety education and training
  • Utilize protective legislation such as the New York Scaffold Law and Carlos’ Law
  • Suspend or revoke the licenses and permits of contractors who break safety laws
  • Expand criminal prosecutions of law-breaking contractors
  • Increase funding for OSHA and the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB)

The full “Deadly Skyline” report is available here.

DOB Understaffed, Underfunded, and Underperforming

The NYC DOB is responsible for regulating the safe and lawful use of more than one million buildings and construction sites across the City, including more than 40,000 active construction sites in fiscal year 2022. But both NYCOSH and the state Comptroller say that DOB needs to do more to keep workers safe.

An initial Comptroller audit report from 2022 showed that, from January 1, 2018 – May 15, 2021, more than 2,000 construction-related safety incidents citywide resulted in 36 deaths. From 2018 – 2020, 26% of all worker deaths in NYC were construction-related, the audit also found.

Conducted between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2022, the audit concluded that DOB routinely failed to follow up on construction site safety summonses and displayed insufficient enforcement of site safety affidavits. It made six recommendations that were addressed in a recently-issued follow-up audit.

A January 2024 letter from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to NYC DOB Commissioner James Oddo indicates that DOB “made limited progress” in addressing the six issues raised in the initial audit report, with two implemented, one partially implemented, and three not implemented.

DiNapoli wrote on X that DOB “needs to hold contractors + property owner accountable for fixing the dangerous construction sites that put workers, and the public, at risk.”

NYCOSH suggests that underfunding could play a role in the ongoing DOB issues. The agency’s budget for fiscal year 2024 is $51 million less than its fiscal year 2023 budget, and it has the fourth-highest vacancy rate of all City agencies (22.7%) with at least 500 employees.

Lack of staffing appears to be a chronic problem at DOB. Crain’s New York Business reported in March 2022 that the DOB had a staff vacancy rate of 24%, including a 20% vacancy rate for site inspectors.

Despite staff shortages, DOB conducted 372,838 inspections in fiscal year 2023, an increase of 5.7 over fiscal year 2022 and a “high water mark” for total inspections since tracking began. Punitive enforcement actions were down as well, something that DOB attributes to greater construction industry compliance with safety regulations and better education about what conditions will lead to a Stop Work Order.

Protecting New York Construction Workers Since 1967

When construction safety standards are ignored, it puts construction workers at risk for injuries and deaths and can expose contractors and other negligent parties to legal action.

The Sanders Law Firm has a team of construction attorneys and support staff available to answer your personal injury, wrongful death, and workers’ compensation questions in multiple languages, including Spanish. For a free evaluation of your construction accident case call (855) SANDERS or contact us.