By Erica Pearson
One worker was pouring concrete in a construction site on Brooklyn’s Brighton 5th St. when the building’s fourth floor collapsed, smashing down to the second floor and crushing him to death.
Another was removing pipe from a warehouse when it suddenly shifted, causing him to fatally fall 10 feet to the ground.
A third was up on a ladder installing safety gear for a construction site when he accidentally touched a live electrical wire and fell through the building’s ceiling. He dropped 92 feet to his death.
All of these incidents happened in New York City in 2011, and when inspectors looked into the deaths, they found multiple workplace violations and, on a form, checked the same box — identifying the workers as “Latino and/or immigrant.”
Latino and immigrant construction workers are dying on the job in New York City in disproportionate numbers, according to a new study set to be released Thursday.
A review of all of the fatal falls on the job investigated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2003 to 2011 found that 74% of construction workers who died were either U.S. born Latinos or immigrants.
“The data we have demonstrates that Latinos and immigrants are more likely to die in these types of accidents,” said Connie Razza from the Center for Popular Democracy, which compiled the report.
Safety violations are more common at job sites run by smaller, non-union contractors — which in turn are more likely to hire immigrant day laborers, the report’s researchers said, citing a New York State Trial Lawyers Association study.
“Contractors aren’t taking simple steps to protect their workers,” said Razza. “They are not providing the training and the safety equipment that are required by law.”
Immigrant workers — especially day laborers — may be reluctant to report safety hazards because they are afraid of being told to leave for the day or losing their job altogether, advocates say.
Razza’s group is fighting potential changes to New York state’s scaffold law, which holds owners and contractors who did not follow safety rules fully liable for workplace injuries and deaths. They say the law gives businesses a strong incentive to keep workplaces safe.
“We really see that law as a necessary stopgap for the workers who work at elevations,” she said.
But contractors who are seeking to modify the law — so that jurors can consider evidence from contractors when making monetary decisions instead of holding them strictly liable — say it goes too far and has caused their insurance costs to skyrocket.
State Assembly leaders have historically blocked proposed changes.
“All we’re looking for is the ability to have the same right as anybody else would in the American jurisprudence system,” said Louis J. Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers' Association.
“Over the last 3 years, insurance costs for general liability on the private sector have increased over 300%.”
Source: New York Daily News