In a response to New York City’s alarming construction fatality rate, the Big Apple’s City Council is considering tough new legislation that would punish contractors who violate safety regulations.

The measures come on the heels of an in-depth New York Times investigation into construction fatalities in the city, which found that contractors skipped safety measures and forced workers to take shortcuts in order to complete projects quickly. Federal investigators noted that most of the deaths were “completely avoidable.”

Higher penalties

The proposed bills would double the penalties for contractors caught working without a permit or violating a stop-work order. Also under consideration: the establishment  of a multi-agency task force -- headed up by the Department of Buildings -- that would assess the safety risks posed to workers, pedestrians and motorists near construction sites.

The city’s buildings commissioner was grilled at a recent hearing of the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings.

17 wooden coffins

News sources report that at the time of the hearing, thousands of union workers and city officials marched and carried 17 wooden coffins, to represent the 16 construction workers who have died on the job so far this year and one “for the next worker,” according to Steve McInnis, president of the New York City District Council of Carpenters whose union had made the coffins on display at the rally.

Most of the 2015 construction fatalities involved immigrants who were working on nonunion projects.

"Driving work underground"

Mayor Bill de Blasio opposes the bills.

“If we set penalties too high, we also risk driving work underground, without the benefit of department regulation, which may in turn result in more unsafe construction,” City building commissioner Rick D. Chandler told the committee.

Chandler said that the department was already doing “proactive enhanced disciplinary work” to address the problem and would focus more on buildings up to nine stories high, “where a disproportionate number of accidents occur.” Chandler said the administration may consider requiring that construction superintendents be on site on all midsize alteration projects.

Mayor de Blasio has been criticized for being lax about construction safety and for siding too often with real estate developers, as part of his agenda to add housing that is affordable to middle-class New Yorkers.

Click here to read previous ISHN articles about NYC's construction fatalities: