Cyrus Vance, Jr. is the current District Attorney in the city of New York and he has brought in assistant District Attorney Diana Florence to start prosecuting contractors who violate construction safety rules. But many contractors are concerned with having the legal process getting involved in a process that is already governed by OSHA and the New York City Department of Buildings.
Negligence Cases Charged As Criminal Offenses
According to the Wall Street Journal, the city’s D.A. office has been trying to get convictions on contractors for worker deaths for years. All contractors involved in the deaths of two firemen in 2007 were acquitted of all charges. No one was punished by the legal system for a massive crane collapse that killed two people in 2008. However, the D.A.’s office has been relentless and has won a conviction over a contractor that it was able to charge with negligence.
In 2015, Guatemalan undocumented worker Carlos Moncayo was killed when a trench he was working in for general contractor Harco Construction collapsed and suffocated him. The company had a history of violations and was warned at least once about the trench before the collapse. In 2016, Harco found out it was facing prosecution for the death of Moncayo. Later in the year, the conviction was returned and now the company waits on the appeal.
The subcontractor that was actually in charge of the trench. Sky Materials, is up next in the legal process. It is possible that both the general contractor and the subcontractor could be held liable for the same death, and that would send a strong message to contractors.
The Urgency For Action Is Increasing
In 2011, there were 19 million square feet of new construction in New York City. By 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 92 million square feet. In 2011, there were 150 construction related injuries compared to over 450 in 2015. According to the Building Trades and Construction Council of Greater New York, 14 of the 16 construction deaths in 2015 were on non-union jobs.
As the construction boom in New York City continues, so does the need for better regulation of the industry. As of August 2016, there have been eight construction related deaths in New York City. The rampant disregard for construction safety has inspired the D.A.’s office to work with the New York City Department of Investigations, local trade unions, and foreign worker’s rights groups to investigate these incidents as crimes. The Harco site was a non-union site, and there is a fear that a pattern of exploiting undocumented workers could be killing construction workers in New York City. The D.A.’s office wants it to stop.
Full Investigation Of The Construction Industry Is Taking Place
In 2014, Cyrus Vance, Jr. showed that the D.A.’s office was going to enter the construction issue when he went after site safety management companies Avanti Building Consultants and NYCB Engineering Group for falsifying safety records. Both companies were accused of hiring unqualified people to act as construction site safety managers to sign safety logs and allow projects to move forward.
The issue was discovered when a city inspector noticed that one of the site safety managers who had recently signed a safety log at a construction site had actually passed away some time before. Instead of allowing the usual construction safety investigators to handle the issue, the D.A.’s office opened a criminal investigation for fraud that is currently ongoing.
The Legal System Is Engaged In The Issue
In 2015, an East Village building exploded when a gas line that was illegally tapped by a contractor ruptured and exploded. Two people died and 19 were injured in the incident. The safety investigation afterward did not satisfy the New York City’s D.A. office. The East Village explosion is the latest high-profile construction safety case the city is engaged in, but it is only one on a growing list of cases that attempt to hold contractors liable.
As construction activity increases in New York City, so does the number of reported accidents and deaths. An overworked OSHA office and Department of Buildings is attempting to keep up with the inspection needs for these sites, but the job is not easy. To help out, the New York City District Attorney has decided to send a message to negligent contractors that disregarding construction safety is a criminal offense.
In years past, it was almost impossible for the legal process to hold contractors accountable. But with the conviction of Harco Construction, it looks like prosecuting contractors is about to become big business in New York City.