Immigrants Majority of Construction Site Deaths

Construction workers in Manhattan. Citywide, 74 percent of fatal falls involve Latino and/or immigrant workers, 13 percent less than Brooklyn and 14 percent less than Queens. (Photo by Tinnytintin, Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Tinnytintin, Creative Commons license)

Latino and immigrant workers in New York are more likely to die in construction falls – the main cause of fatalities – than other workers, according to a study released by the non-profit Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) last week, reports Amsterdam News‘ Stephon Johnson. Entitled “Fatal Inequality – Workplace Safety Eludes Construction Workers of Color in New York State,” the study found that those workers make up 74 percent of fatal falls citywide, with higher percentages in Queens and Brooklyn.

“Our study explains that construction workers of color, especially immigrants, are at greater risk of death from falls from an elevation because they are more likely to work for smaller, nonunion construction firms that shortcut worker safety,” said Amy Carroll, deputy director of the Center for Popular Democracy, in a statement. “That means that if developers and special interests get their way in Albany and gut the ‘scaffold law’ [Labor Law Section 240], more people of color will die. Rather than weakening safety standards, our representatives should be increasing inspections and requiring more safety training.”

The study by CDP, an advocate group for labor and unions, came from examining U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations of constructions sites that had a fatal fall between 2003 and 2011.

In the report, it’s revealed that in 60 percent of the OSHA-investigated “fall-from-an-elevation fatalities in New York state,” the workers were Latino and/or immigrant. That rate is disproportionately high considering their participation in construction work (40 percent of all construction workers in New York state are people of color). In the five boroughs, victims in 74 percent of fatal falls were Latino and/or immigrant workers.

Most of the falls occurred at construction sites that OSHA found were in “serious violation of safety regulations,” writes Johnson.

Construction worker Pedro Corchado who himself fell at a site in 2008, said that workers basically have no choice but to follow orders regardless of how safe or not is the site.

“Almost anybody who works in construction will tell you it’s hard to refuse a boss’ directions to climb onto a scaffold that’s not entirely safe or go up a ladder without the appropriate safety equipment,” said Corchado. “For most workers, like me, telling the boss ‘no’ is simply not an option. I know the dangers outlined in this report firsthand from personal experience.

The report went on to provide recommendations, including giving OSHA increased funding to train more inspectors to carry out inspections, as well as to enforce safety regulations and worker training.

When broken down by borough, in 88 percent of deadly falls in Queens and 87 percent in Brooklyn a Latino and/or immigrant worker was the victim.


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