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Op-Ed: Protection our construction workers now!

BY CITY COUNCILMAN RORY LANCMAN

A recent New York Times investigation into the horrible and tragic increase in construction deaths and injuries over the past two years revealed some shocking flaws in our system for keeping workers safe.

There were 10 construction fatalities in the last fiscal year, almost double the previous average. Seven more workers have died in the past five months. These were hard-working men, most of whom called Queens home. These men are being failed by real estate developers and construction companies that would rather make a quick buck than take the time to protect workers and ensure they receive the proper training.

We cannot allow our construction boom to come at a cost of workers’ lives or health. That’s why I’m calling for swift passage of the OSHA Notification Act, legislation I introduced to require the Department of Buildings (DOB) to notify the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of construction violations that can potentially endanger workplace safety. Too often, communication breakdowns between the DOB and OSHA have devastating consequences. My legislation will get these agencies to talk and cooperate to stop dangerous construction and prevent accidents before they turn into tragedies.

The DOB has promised that it will work with OSHA on a more proactive basis to enhance both agencies’ enforcement strategies, but promises aren’t enough. We need DOB/OSHA collaboration codified into law.

The horrific increase in construction deaths also highlights the need for New York City to support projects where workers have union representation to assert their safety rights. As reported by the Times, the deaths usually involved smaller projects that used nonunion workers. New York’s construction unions ensure that all workers on union job sites are appropriately trained and informed of their rights, and are protected from retaliation when they assert their rights to a safe workplace.

As we look to increase the construction of affordable and senior housing in our city, the city should encourage unionized workplaces, with developers and contractors who actually care if their workers make it home to their families each night. The current rate of construction deaths is unacceptable. Allowing the same bad actors to continue building will only increase the problem.

Lancman represents the 24th City Council District, which covers all or parts of Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills and Jamaica. As an Assembly member, he chaired the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety.

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