[Worker safety circa 1932 – some things never change]
On Monday afternoon, two workers fell from the incomplete hulk of Donald Trump’s Soho Hotel. One man, a Ukrainian immigrant from Greenpoint, was decapitated during the fall, while his more fortunate colleague miraculously survived.
Leaving aside the fact that the men were employed by a construction firm with clear mafia ties and a rash of code violations, and the Trump building is going up in spite of zoning violations and vehement protests by residents, this was the second incident inside a month where workers fell to their death from New York City high-rises. Edgar Moreno, an Ecuadorean immigrant and window cleaner, died on Dec. 8th after falling 43 stories from a scaffolding while washing windows on a skyscraper. In both instances, improper construction or safety procedures were deemed culpable.
This is the dark side of New York City’s soon-to-end real estate boom: worker safety.
Construction accidents were on the rise as recently as 2006, until the media got caught up in the housing bubble and accompanying paid advertisements by realtors. In 2007, accidents at high-rise sites resulting in injury or death rose 83 percent, according to the New York City Building Department.
Real estate, and construction in particular, are industries driven by the bottom line. Profits are management’s prime concern, and the highest margin is best achieved by skimping on construction costs. This includes safety training, equipment, and following proper construction procedures designed to lessen the chance of mishaps. At the Trump Soho, substandard construction procedures were documented in photos taken minutes before Yuriy Vanchytskyy met his fate.
In a climate where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency in charge of worker safety, issues fines of $3,500 for failure to provide proper security devices, what incentive do contractors have to comply with existing regulations? $3,500 is pocket change when compared to the lucrative profits taken in by boom-time construction firms. Furthermore, New York City’s Building Department is stretched thin, with a dearth of inspectors to examine the myriad of unfinished or under-construction projects.
Until tragedies like these occur, blue-collar workers simply do not rate in the minds of New York City’s new generation of “urban pioneers.” Their multi-million dollar glass-and-steel lofts are literally paid for in sweat, tears, and blood.
But do they care? Hell, no, they’ve got more important things to worry about: The new Macbook Air is out!
-written by Ali Winston