NYC construction deaths ticked up in 2021, but incidents notched 3-year decline

Officials credited ramped-up safety protocol with 40% drop in incidents since 2018

(iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
(iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

The construction industry managed to navigate the return to activity in a safer fashion than years past, but injuries and deaths on the job still ticked upwards.

The Department of Buildings released its second annual construction safety report this week, detailing incidents, injuries and fatalities. Construction-related incidents declined by 10 percent year-over-year, despite an increase in activity from pandemic-hampered 2020. There were 712 incidents last year, a decline of more than 40 percent from 2018.

While incidents are down, both injuries and deaths are up, though only slightly. There were 505 construction-related injuries in 2021, three more than the previous year. Meanwhile, there were nine construction-related fatalities in 2021, one more than in 2020.

“While construction safety has improved over the past years following important regulatory changes and stronger enforcement, there is much more to be done because the loss of even one life is one too many,” said Pierina Sanchez, chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Officials launched a “zero-tolerance enforcement strategy” after a slew of construction-related worker falls were recorded in early 2021, the report said. The three-month probe for unsafe conditions resulted in 1,499 stop-work orders across the five boroughs.

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The leading cause of both construction-related incidents and fatalities last year were falls, which accounted for seven of the nine fatalities. The other two were a result of construction equipment, including one elevator incident.

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An increase in construction activity year over year may help explain the increase in injuries and deaths. The number of permits issued rose by 13.9 percent year-over-year, while new construction floor area jumped by 30.3 percent.

Broken down by borough, the most incidents occurred in Manhattan, 395 in all, while the least number of incidents were the 12 in Staten Island. Each borough saw at least one construction-related fatality; in 2020, there were none in the Bronx or Staten Island.

Officials credited heightened DOB initiatives, including mandatory site safety training, increased proactive construction protocols and outreach to the construction community, for the decline in incidents beginning in 2019.

Among the goals to decrease incidents in 2022 are to push for licensing reform, strengthen Local Law 196 and expand outreach and training for construction workers.