death on the job

Construction Deaths Go Unreported as Building Owners Ignore Law

Dominican immigrant Luis Sanchez Almonte was crushed to death last year after part of brick retaining wall fell on him while he was working at a this Brooklyn construction site.
Dominican immigrant Luis Sanchez Almonte was crushed to death last year after part of brick retaining wall fell on him while he was working at a this Brooklyn construction site. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A least a dozen construction workers died on the job in New York City last year — but building owners and contractors reported only a single fatality, THE CITY has learned.

A 2017 city law requires building owners or contractors to report all deaths and injuries on their construction sites to the Department of Buildings.

But they’ve fallen far short – without facing any penalty, so far.

The one reported death was that of Over Paredes in November, which was filed by the general contractor at 859 Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn, according to DOB records.

Worker deaths that went unreported include some that made headlines: Ju Cong Wu, who fell nine stories down an elevator shaft during a hotel project in Manhattan, and Luis Almonte, who was crushed under a brick wall at a Sunset Park worksite.

The DOB has not yet cited any company for failing to report.

The department will begin issuing $2,500 initial violations to building owners who do not report deaths or injuries beginning June 1, agency spokesperson Joseph Soldevere said after THE CITY inquired about enforcement.

“Developers need to be aware that we will be holding them to their obligations under the law and taking all appropriate enforcement actions if they fail to meet those obligations,” he said in a statement.

Owners also could face fines of $1,000 for each day they fail to submit the reports, Soldevere said.

The law went into effect immediately after it was signed in May 2017. Soldevere attributed the delay in enforcement to a slew of new construction safety-related laws — 50 since January 2017 — that has stretched the agency thin.

“We’re implementing dozens of new laws and have had to allocate our resources among many major priorities,” Soldevere wrote.

Grim Numbers in Recent Years

Private construction is the most lethal industry in New York City, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which counted 20 deaths in 2017. The bureau’s 2018 tally is not yet available.

The Department of Buildings only counts and investigates a limited share of the deaths – specifically ones that involve building code violations, and tallied 12 fatalities in 2018.

Construction workers carry coffins through the Financial District to protest worker deaths, March 14, 2018.
Construction workers carry coffins through the Financial District to protest worker deaths, March 14, 2018. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health — an advocacy nonprofit made up of “workers, unions, community-based organizations, workers’ rights activists, and health and safety professionals” — has identified others.

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill, fumed that the measure has been all-but ignored.

“I’m concerned that there is no cost for the lives of construction workers,” he told THE CITY.

“The fact that it hasn’t been reported shows that developers and their construction companies think that they can get away with people dying on their sites and no one, not even the government, is willing to do anything about it.”

Juan Soto, a spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, said the Council is “disappointed with the roll out and enforcement” of the law.

“DOB should strictly enforce the law to ensure that the required reports are accurate and meaningful,” he said in a written statement. “Every death needs to be counted.”

Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association of New York City, agreed.

“There are bad actors who do not report fatalities or other safety violations to the Buildings Department and they should have a responsibility to do it,” he said.

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