Nine construction workers were killed in New York City jobsite incidents in 2021, but the number of all construction-related safety incidents in the city declined for the third year straight even as construction activity rose.
The New York Dept. of Buildings (DOB) recently released its annual Construction Safety Report, which identified 712 safety incidents at construction sites in 2021 that involved the agency being called to respond by first responders, site safety professionals or contractors. That includes incidents that resulted in an injury or death, and others such as a wall collapse or material drop that involved no injuries.
The number of incidents was down from 796 incidents in 2020, 960 in 2019 and 1,193 in 2018, DOB data shows.
While there were fewer incidents, the number of construction-related injuries and deaths did increase slightly from 2020, though they were still lower than in previous years, according to the report. There were 505 construction-related injuries in New York in 2021, compared to 502 in 2020, 594 in 2019 and 759 in 2018.
The nine construction-related deaths last year are an increase from eight deaths in 2020, but still down from 14 in 2019. Seven of the 2021 deaths were the result of falls, which the report states were also the leading cause of injuries. The fatal falls occurred on jobsites for both large projects, like an ironworker who plummeted 86 ft while tightening bolts on a 19-story Manhattan office building, and small projects, such as a roofer who fell off a single-family home under construction on Staten Island.
One worker also died as a result of an electric shock. Another was crushed when an elevator loaded with concrete debris, which was not approved for use in the demolition project, dropped and crashed.
The number of falls shows that general contractors should be concerned with implementing proper safeguards, DOB officials wrote in the report. Brian Sampson, president of Empire State Associated Builders and Contractors, said in a statement that it’s “vital that construction industry workers feel safe and are safe on the job and in the office.”
He said, “The industry, working alongside our partners at the Dept. of Buildings, has made great strides to make the workforce physically safer," adding, “That requires a daily commitment by leadership at all levels to prioritize safety as a core value.”
The decline in incidents came amid an uptick in New York construction activity. The DOB says it issued more than 168,000 permits last year, compared to fewer than 148,000 in 2020.
“Data analysis like this is a critical part of our strategy to help our industry partners properly safeguard their work sites,” Constadino "Gus" Sirakis, acting DOB commissioner, said in a statement.
Seven of the deaths came in the first five months of 2021, which prompted the DOB to initiate a three-month safety sweep at jobsites across the city. Officials previously said the effort resulted in more than 3,600 violations and 1,500 stop-work orders being issued.
DOB officials attribute the overall drop in incidents to changes in regulations including mandatory site safety training for workers on larger projects and added inspection protocols. And New York has continued to revise its building regulations. The City Council passed a bill last October to add hundreds of “major” updates and even more smaller updates focused on improving safety and adapting to new technologies.
“Construction remains a bedrock industry in our growing city, and we owe it to our fellow New Yorkers to continue to push for safer work sites for the benefit of all New Yorkers,” Sirakis said.
Amy Blankenbiller, executive director of the National Elevator Industry Inc., a trade association, declined to comment on the elevator-related fatality "without understanding the root cause and details."
She told ENR that safety is a multifaceted issue requiring regular updating. New elevator mechanic licensing requirements took effect this year for New York state, though Blankenbiller said the city's DOB already had “a very robust elevator program.” The new state requirements include continuing education beyond initial training. The association constantly reviews its own training curriculum, she added.
“There’s not just one piece that is necessary to have a successful safety program,” she said. “That’s why you look at training, you look at best practices, you look at the root cause of accidents to see if you need to make changes in something moving forward.”