More than 300 city construction sites have been shut down this month because building inspectors found glaring safety violations, the Daily News has learned.
The 322 sites, more than a third of which were in Brooklyn, were shuttered during a massive zero-tolerance safety sweep conducted by the Department of Buildings designed to tamp down on construction deaths in the city. Seven hardhats have died in construction-related accidents so far this year, including three in May alone, Buildings officials said.
Those killed include 32-year-old Queens resident Diego Lliguicota, who was working on the sixth floor of a Long Island City building when he fell down an elevator shaft on May 22.Just five days later, on May 27, a 49-year-old Brooklyn construction worker died after he fell four stories off the roof of a Flatbush bank he was helping demolish. He was not tethered to anything, he lost his balance and fell, authorities said.
“The recent spate of construction worker deaths in our city is tragic, senseless — and even worse, entirely avoidable,” DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said.
Eight hardhats were killed in construction accidents in 2020, even after all nonessential construction was shut down for more than two months because of the pandemic, officials said.
In 2019, 12 construction workers died, the same number as in 2018, according to a first-of-its kind data-driven DOB Construction Safety Report shared with The News. In addition to the deaths, 1,097 construction workers have been injured on the job over the past two years, officials said. There were 502 construction related injuries last year and 595 in 2019 — both fewer than in 2018, which saw 761 construction related injuries.
Overall, there were 959 construction-related incidents in 2019 and 796 in 2020, the first time in a decade that incident numbers have dropped, DOB officials said. Most injuries were caused by workers falling because they were not properly harnessed while working on higher floors, according to the report.
“As we know all too well, the very building projects and construction activity that has powered our city’s amazing growth into a global capital can pose their own potential hazards,” La Rocca stated in the report. “When regulations are ignored, and the proper safety precautions have not been implemented, the consequences can be devastating.”
The city has been experiencing a building boom since 2014. The DOB is overseeing 35,000 construction sites throughout the city to make sure they comply with safety regulations. Out of the stop-work orders issued this month, 113 were meted out at Brooklyn construction sites, officials said. In Manhattan, 83 spots were closed down, followed by 69 in Queens and 54 in the Bronx. Safety violations were found in only three construction sites in Staten Island, DOB officials said.
Construction was immediately halted if inspectors saw workers not wearing harnesses, contractors not following their site safety plans, or no “controlled access zones” or guard rails were found. Those are all errors that could cause a worker to fall, a Buildings spokesman said.
Stop-work orders were also issued if inspectors couldn’t find a safety professional at larger sites. An official safety professional or a “competent person” with 62-hours of training is required to be on sites 10 stories or higher when work is being done to make sure everything is proceeding safely. City inspectors also wrote 1,129 violations for safety and noncompliance concerns during the checks, which are expected to continue.
The sweep comes as City Hall mulls over new construction safety bills that would allow safety professionals on buildings with seven stories or more, put a dedicated DOB-licensed construction superintendent at each major site in the city and create new safety requirements for crews.
A hearing will be held on the bills next month.
John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: John@LIConstructionLaw.com or (631) 608-1346.
This is a general information article and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. The content above has been edited for conciseness and additional relevant points are omitted for space constraints. Readers are encouraged to seek counsel from a construction lawyer who has experience with Long Island construction law for advice on a particular circumstance.