The 2006 fatality data represents an 87 percent increase over the previous year’s 23 deaths, making it the deadliest year in a decade for the NYC construction industry. Edward Walsh, president of the New York State District Council of Iron Workers, says that reports generated by this jump in construction fatalities did not take into consideration whether the workers were employed by union or non-union sites.
“It’s misleading when the statistics come out because they don’t define the union and non-union deaths, so we get thrown in the mix,” Walsh said.
Many reports largely neglected the non-union factor and instead cited issues such as the city’s building boom, immigrant workers and language barriers as having a significant impact on the fatality data. According to some stories, NYC “workers were more likely to die on construction jobs if they were foreign born, Hispanic, spoke a language other than English, and worked for a non-union crew.”
In fact, OSHA statistics reveal that 40 of the construction deaths in the last 18 months occurred on non-union worksites. These statistics also point out that the majority of construction deaths occurred on buildings under 14 stories tall. According to Lou Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employment Association, high-rise construction is almost entirely unionized.
“The high-rise construction in New York City is the safest high-rise construction in the world – so if we’re looking for why construction deaths have spiked, it’s in the sites of below 14 stories, and it’s because that workforce is not sufficiently trained, either from a skills standpoint or a safety standpoint,” Coletti said.
“The unionized sector does everything it can to provide training both to its project manager personnel, as well as its skilled trained workforce,” Coletti added, “and virtually none of that is done in the non-union sector.”
Nationally, construction fatalities in 2006 rose three percent to include a total of 1,226 deaths. Construction deaths accounted for 21 percent of the nation’s 5,703 workplace fatalities in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.