Cutting Corners in Construction - A Lesson From New York
New York is enjoying an increase in building projects right now as demand for residential accommodation in the city has pushed the average price of a Manhattan apartment to more than a million dollars. While this is good news for the local construction industry, the surge in building activity also has a dark side. The number of workers injured in construction accidents in New York City rose by more than 50% last year with worries that builders are cutting corners in order to cash in on the rally in the city’s trillion dollar plus property market.
The number of permits issued for new buildings in New York rose 18% last year according to the City Buildings Commissioner, Rick Chandler. However, 356 workers were injured in construction accidents – a steep rise from the 237 injuries the previous year. According to Mr. Chandler, most of these construction accidents were avoidable and the city has actually shut down hundreds of job sites that were managed by contractors who were not prioritising safety. This has led to the city planning to hire 100 extra building inspectors by 2017.
With some companies repeatedly violating the city’s construction code, licences are being revoked or suspended at an unprecedented rate. Mr. Chandler vowed that “”We will not tolerate the mind-set that construction accidents are simply the cost of doing business”. While it’s difficult to ascertain the number of deaths in construction accidents, the city has revealed that there were nine construction worker deaths last year, an increase from the 8 deaths the previous year. However, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors claim that 18 construction workers (15 of them non-union) died in accidents in 2015, with falls being the leading cause of death on buildings sites in the city.
The rise in the number of accidents and injuries has come about as builders are using more non-union construction workers in the city. While this is helping to keep the project costs competitive, it’s also contributing to a reduction in the safety standards according to veterans in the construction industry. Non-union tends not to be as well organised and the workers aren’t as well trained as they should be.
With fewer construction workers receiving training in union apprenticeship programmes, New York construction sites have turned the city into a modern day Tower of Babel. On many of the sites the construction crews and their bosses are unable to communicate in the same language – a recipe for disaster. New York is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural city and this is leading to communication problems that can have dangerous and life changing results.
According to some industry experts, the underlying problem in New York is that builders are trying to do too much too quickly as they rush to meet stringent deadlines on projects. With construction work in London predicted to increase in the coming years, we in the UK would do well to learn a lesson from this sorry tale. Here in the UK we have stringent health and safety at work legislation that is designed to reduce risks and avoid accidents. However, we all need to be vigilant in the future as the British construction industry begins to recover from the economic recession that has hit is so hard in recent years.