You do not have to be a social scientist to know construction in NYC is booming. Walk in any neighborhood and you will see scaffolding and crudely constructed pedestrian pathways with heavy construction equipment teetering precariously overhead. I have actually considered purchasing a hard hat for my daily commute.
According to the Census Bureau, the New York region saw 86,424 new, privately owned housing units in 2015. This is a whopping increase of 38,443 from 2014 when permits totaled 47,981. Part of the reason for the surge was a property tax abatement that expired in June of 2015 according to The Wall Street Journal.
But the boom did not come without problems. Noise complaints to 311 over construction totaled 105,156 for 2015 and YTD 2016 (based on analysis of data from NYC’s Open Data Portal). City Council member, Margaret Chin, introduced a bill in November 2015 that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to sample noise across the city by decibel level. The bill is still in committee.
Of more concern, worker and pedestrian accidents and fatalities increased just as rapidly. According to the Department of Buildings, there were 433 accidents in 2015 compared with 231 in 2014. Injuries from accidents affected 471 construction workers and pedestrians, a 91% increase over the 246 injured in 2014.
So what can be done? The Department of Buildings has made progress on halting work at sites deemed unsafe. This year DOB issued 4,580 stop-work orders in the first six months of 2016, a 23% increase from the same time last year and a 70% increase from 2012, when 2,701 orders were issued.
Many labor advocates argue that construction accidents and fatalities could be significantly reduced by employing union versus non-union workers. But others like BuildingNYC, who advocates for non-union builders, say there is no correlation between union versus non-union sites and safety. BuildingNYC says the accident rates can be attributed to simple math; 3 out of 4 construction workers are employed at non-union sites so their accident rates will be higher.
At the time I am writing this, a 52 year old architect has fallen to his death from a Midtown skyscraper. These accidents happen way too often. Guess I will still be looking for that hard hat.