By Matthew Wolfe
In the past few years, Brooklyn has seen one of the largest construction booms in its history. Not only has construction on traditional single-family residences and apartment buildings shot up, but construction of tall towers, and massive condominiums as well. In this context of fervid development, a new annual safety report by the Department of Buildings raises questions for the borough about the comparative safety of high-rise versus low-rise construction projects. Citywide accidents on the construction sites of high-rise buildings – of which Brooklyn has 22 – almost doubled from 23 through the end of October this year to 42 through the same period last year, a jump of 83 percent. While there are 12 percent more high-rise buildings under construction this year than last year, which would account in part for the higher numbers, that’s still an increase in the rate of accidents per site of almost 63 percent. Among the more notable recent high-rise accidents was on October 17 at 1111 Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan, when a bucket which from the top of the Bank of America tower, raining glass and metal debris on bystanders. Towers of close to this height are expected to be built along the East River waterfront. The report notes that one of the Department’s primary concerns is material falling off of high-rise buildings. On the smaller end of construction, accidents involving low-rise buildings, of which building has the second highest number of active sites of all the boroughs, dropped 23 percent from 66 to 51. There are 31 percent more low-rise buildings being constructed this year, which makes the drop in accidents all the more dramatic. In particular, the number of workers who were injured by falling on low-rise construction sites fell from 39 to 17. The study specifically points out a partially collapsed site at Ocean Ave in Brooklyn. In that case, a dock was overloaded with concrete blocks and fell through, collapsed the bay that was supporting it. Although the distance is shorter, material falling off buildings under construction still made up 33 percent of accidents on low-rise sites. The number of incidents in which “material fell” was the primary cause of a low-rise accident nearly doubled, from 9 to 17. Most of the material that fell were concrete blocks that are used during masonry work. The report also noted that construction-related injuries citywide dropped from 105 to 104, while fatalities fell from 14 to 8. It also said that scaffold-related injuries fell from 17 to 11, with deaths dropping from 6 last year to only 1 this year. “Today’s numbers demonstrate that the proactive safety and enforcement initiatives implemented during the last year are building momentum and having a positive effect on construction safety,” said Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster in a statement released with the report. The report compares only statistics from the beginning of 2007 until the end of October to the same period from the 2006. It does not include any on accident numbers or rates prior to that. Nor does the report state what percentage of the accidents involved safety violations. The report recommends responding to high-rise accidents by soliciting recommendations from the Concrete Industry Board, the Building Trade Employers Association (a contractor advocacy group) and construction management board. For low-rise accidents, the report advocates enhanced enforcement programs and the continued application of the construction superintendent rule, which requires an individual to register to oversee demolition or construction of buildings below 15-stories.