The building boom in New York City continues to extract a deadly toll on construction workers. On just one day, September 21, two laborers lost their lives as the number of fatalities for 2017 swelled to eight. Last year and the year before, there were 12 fatalities at construction sites in the city.
The first fatality on September 21 was Juan Chonillo, 43, of Queens, who fell from the 29th story to the top of a first-floor scaffolding of a high rise building under construction in the Financial District, as reported in the New York Post. The accident happened at about 9:15 a.m. It was found that Chonillo’s safety belt was not properly clipped to a security hook, and witnesses said he fell from a shaking platform.
The construction site, under the management of Abbey Associates, has been cited nine times this year for violations and fined $24,000. A stop-work order was also issued at the site after it was discovered that a crane lacked the proper permit.
The Post story does not indicate whether Abbey was running a nonunion site. But sites using nonunion and immigrant labor have been heavily criticized for lax safety standards, a practice the city has tried to rectify by considering a new law to mandate worker safety training. Chonillo, a father of five, was a native of Ecuador.
The second fatal accident happened at 2 p.m. at the Manhattan West site operated by Brookfield Property Partners. Two 45-year-old electrical contractors fell 35 feet when a forklift cage collapsed. One man died at the site; the other was transported to an area hospital in stable condition.
At the time of the accident, the site had “several active violations on the property, including failure to maintain safety measures, with at least $1,500 owed in penalties,” according to dna.info. In June, another worker had fallen to his death at One Manhattan West.
Tragedies like these call into question the Department of Buildings’ tolerance for safety violations. One might think that a city famous for cleaning up crime by implementing the “broken window theory” would understand the relationship between lax enforcement of safety violations and the proliferation of fatal construction accidents. New safety laws could well have a salutary effect, but elements seem to shift the burden for safety onto the workers. It’s time for more aggressive enforcement of safety violations against companies that flout the law to pad profits.