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NY fails to count construction fatalities: 2 reasons why

Construction is a dangerous occupation. Workers are expected to operate dangerous machinery, work at great heights and work in inclement weather. These factors can, and have, resulted in accidents.

Accidents can happen on any site. Sometimes these accidents are catastrophic. In New York City the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that there were 17 construction deaths. Unfortunately, the Department of Buildings (DOB), an agency designed to regulate construction within NYC, failed to recognize five of these deaths.

What is the difference between OSHA and DOB? OSHA is a federal agency tasked with assuring working conditions throughout the country are safe and healthful. The DOB is tasked with ensuring the safety of everyone that builds, works and lives in New York City.

How does the DOB tally construction accident fatalities? New York City's DOB counts deaths that are the result of a violation of the city's construction code. Based on this definition, only 12 of the 17 deaths in 2015 counted by OSHA were considered construction accidents by the DOB.

Why are the numbers from the DOB different than those reported by OSHA? A recent report by Crain's dug into the issue. Two of the main reasons for the disparity in counting methods for these two agencies include:

  • A matter of semantics. As noted above, one argument is that the deaths were not improperly accounted for because they did not qualify within the DOB's definition of construction accidents.
  • Interpretation of a court holding. This argument is expanded on the contention that the DOB basis its count on a lawsuit that occurred in 2013. This lawsuit stated that the city buildings regulations are designed to protect the public as well as workers. This was interpreted to call the BOD to focus on accidents that are a threat to public safety.

In many cases, uncounted fatalities are not viewed as construction accidents; instead they are viewed as labor issues.

Why do accurate statistics matter? When a death is not categorized correctly, NYC's Department of Investigation may not conduct a proper investigation. Without an investigation, the issue that led to the accident may not be amended.

When violations are not addressed, the workplace could become even more dangerous.

What can victims do? Those that are the victims of construction accidents have options. One option is to move forward with legal action. Contact an experienced construction accident lawyer to discuss your case. This legal professional will guide you through your options and advocate for your rights, working to better ensure your legal rights and remedies are protected. 

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