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20 Dead in 2021

A new tally of fatalities by NYCOSH says non-union is back to pre-pandemic bad-normal.


The new summary of fatalities in 2021 says New York City construction is just as dangerous as before the pandemic.

New Yorkers should be shaking their heads at the new number of construction worker deaths for the year 2021 just published by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).

The worker safety watchdog says that 20 workers died on the job in New York City that year, a pace that matches pre-pandemic levels (2020 saw a slow down in deaths due to industry shutdowns). This high number of deaths is not what New Yorkers had hoped for when we sought to return to “pre-pandemic normal.”

NYCOSH executive director, Charlene Obernauer, called the number of deaths “startling.” She added, “Construction workers should not have to kiss their loved ones goodbye in the morning, fearful to never return again,” Obernauer said. “Every number in this report represents a person with a family who should still be alive today. Their deaths were often gruesome, always heartbreaking, and preventable.”

This increase in deaths is almost exclusively a non-union problem. The NYCOSH annual report, “Deadly Skyline” explains that 83% of all worker fatalities in New York since 2015 have occurred on non-union sites. And when OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspected a job site after a fatality, they found 80% of the workers on those sites were non-union workers.


Mauricio Sanchez died last year when an elevator plummeted 75 feet to the ground.

Diego Rodriguez Cel fell from the 12th floor of a building on York Street near Bridge Street in DUMBO.

"Every number in this report represents a person with a family who should still be alive today. Their deaths were often gruesome, always heartbreaking, and preventable."

And most of those non-union fatalities befell Latino men, many of whom are in New York construction without proper documentation, which makes them especially dependent upon their jobs to provide for families and to remain in the country. This dependency makes them very vulnerable to contractors who want to cheat the system and increase their own profits by skimping on safety measures, safety training and worse.

This fact is confirmed by the list of the men who died here in 2021, which includes Mauricio Sánchez, from Mexico, Diego Lliguicota, of Maspeth, Queens, and Diego Rodríguez Celi, of New Jersey.


Fewer Inspectors

The report claims that staffing shortages at local and federal regulators may also be partly to blame for the increase in deaths. It says that OSHA conducted 42% fewer inspections in 2021 than it did in the last pre-pandemic work year, 2019. Compound that drop off with the fact that there are only about 800 inspectors employed by the New York City Department of Buildings and there are now over 40,000 active construction sites here.

According to Obernauer, routine inspections keep contractors on alert and makes it more likely they will follow safety rules. But fewer inspections allows some of them to believe they can get away with skirting those rules.

“Whenever we see cuts to departments that are responsible for safety, we become worried that there will be fewer inspections, fewer enforcements, and as a result, there will be more injuries and more fatalities,” she said. “We want to make sure that the department is fully staffed so that it can do its job.”

In December, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Carlos’ Law, which will increase penalties for criminal corporate liability for the death or serious physical injury of an employee by up to $500,000. The bill was named after construction worker Carlos Moncoya, who died on the job in Manhattan in 2015.

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