Brooklyn topped city in construction site violations in 2021: report

construction worker death at 124 columbia heights
A construction worker fell to his death at a Brooklyn Heights Construction site on Feb. 11. The ten-story building, seen here before construction began, is set to open this spring.
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Brooklyn has topped the city’s other four boroughs in construction site safety violations two years in a row, which coincided with a large number of workers’ deaths on the job, according to a new report from the city’s Department of Buildings.

City inspectors issued a whopping 26,255 safety violations to construction sites in Brooklyn in 2021, over 7,000 more than were issued in second-place Manhattan last year, according to the DOB’s second annual Construction Safety Report, which was released March 28. Kings County also saw the most stop-work orders by far with 4,061, substantially higher than the 2,562 issued in Manhattan and 2,460 in Queens.

Brooklyn also topped both rankings in 2020, with 23,916 violations and 4,787 stop-work orders issued the year before last.

The number of safety violations issued by inspectors increased in all five boroughs from 2020 to 2021, while the number of stop-work orders concurrently decreased in each borough. The number of violations in Brooklyn increased by a little under 10 percent, while stop-work orders declined by about 15 percent.

Nine construction workers citywide lost their lives on the job last year, including three in Brooklyn, tied with Manhattan for the most of any borough, though the number of deaths in Kings County is down from the five recorded in 2020.

All three deaths in Brooklyn resulted from falls, the report notes. A worker died on April 23, 2021 after falling 10 feet to the ground from a walkway made of wooden planks on a job site repairing the facade of an apartment building at 1200 East 53rd Street in Flatlands. A month later, on May 27, a 49-year old construction worker from the Bronx fell 60 feet to his death while working on the demolition of the Flatbush Savings Bank. Later, in November, a worker performing asbestos abatement at 289 Third Ave. in Gowanus fell through a gap more than a foot wide between the building and support scaffolding.

On-site deaths and injuries both ticked up slightly last year from the year prior citywide, going up from eight to nine deaths and 502 to 505 injuries, though both metrics decreased in Brooklyn. The metrics have nonetheless been on a downward trend in recent years across the five boroughs, falling from 759 injuries in 2018 to 505 last year, and from 13 deaths in 2018 to nine in 2021.

The report attributes the year-over-year increase in injuries and deaths to the cessation of construction work during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, and the longer-term decrease on updates to the construction code and new legislation strengthening licensing requirements.

“Construction remains a bedrock industry in our growing City, and we owe it to our fellow New Yorkers to continue to push for safer work sites for the benefit of all New Yorkers,” said Acting DOB Commissioner Gus Sirakis in a statement. “For the second year in a row, we are publishing a comprehensive report on building construction safety, so we can better track incidents and understand why they occur. Data analysis like this is a critical part of our strategy to help our industry partners properly safeguard their work sites.”

Early into this year, on Feb. 11, a construction worker fell to his death at a Brooklyn Heights work site. Community members rallied behind victim Angel Pilataxi’s family, raising more than $10,000 for funeral expenses on GoFundMe in partnership with the Worker Justice Project.

Hildalyn Colón Hernández, director of policy and strategic partnerships at WJP, says that many incidents and injuries go unreported, as workers fear retaliation for coming forward.

“WJP continues to see a high amount of construction workers that suffered casualties at their job sites,” Colón Hernández told Brooklyn Paper. “For fear of retaliation or just losing their job & income, they prefer to follow their employers’ orders and not report these accidents to the authorities.”

While the DOB attributes the decline in workplace fatalities to new legislation and code updates, Colón Hernández says the decline is also due in part to thousands of health and safety trainings WJP has conducted with construction workers in recent years.