According to Construction Dive, the Bureau of Labor Statistics adjusted its number for construction deaths on private projects in 2014 from 874 to 899. The increase was due to new data that was made available, and it caused 33 states to also adjust their private construction fatality numbers for 2014 upwards as well. All told, the numbers for 2014 were much higher than the 2013 numbers, and they were the highest amount of deaths on private construction projects since 2013.
Laborpress.org tells us that 2014 ended with a then-record $26.2 billion total in construction projects for New York City, which helps to partially explain the sharp increase in fatalities. When there is a record amount of work, there tends to be a record number of accidents. But when the first half of 2015 clocked in at $22.2 billion in projects, it became obvious that more construction work and fatalities were on the way.
It has been reported that 14 of the 16 construction deaths in New York City in 2015 were non-union workers on private projects and that only helps to highlight the issues private construction projects are having with safety.
Public Versus Private Construction Projects
When it comes to knowing the difference in projects, private construction projects are owned by private entities such as corporations while public projects are owned and administered by local, state, or federal government departments or offices. The differences between public and private projects not only deal with who owns the projects but also how each project is run and how contractors are paid.
The Problem Of Payment
When a contractor on a private job does not get paid, that contractor can put a lien on the project. If the project owner does not pay, then the property is auctioned off and the proceeds go towards paying off the contractor. In many cases, the auction price is not enough to cover the contractor’s total expenses.
With public projects, contractors must submit a bid bond that can be used to pay a contractor if the government agency defaults on their responsibility. While it is rare that a government agency does not pay a contractor for work done on a public project, it is not unheard of. However, where the contractor assumes risk when trying to recover money from a private project, contractors have a much better chance of receiving full payment from a bid bond if payment is not made for a public project.
The risks in possibly not getting paid for private jobs is just one of the reasons that contractors try to cut corners on private jobs and maximize their profits. Unfortunately, one of the first areas where contractors cut costs on private projects is on worker safety. This disregard for safety on private projects is a contributing factor to the high fatality rate.
Union Versus Non-Union Projects
According to the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, union workers are much less likely to be killed on union jobs than non-union workers. A large majority of all public projects use what is called prevailing wages, which shows preference towards union companies. All federal projects make prevailing wages mandatory, and most state projects throughout the country also require prevailing wage companies. When you consider how union companies are run, this preference for union shops on public jobs would help to explain the significant difference in fatality rates.
Why Union Labor Is Safer
Unions have strict safety rules they follow as part of their agreements with job owners. Unions do regular safety training sessions for employees, and unions also invest heavily in having safety personnel on every job site. Unions also perform regular safety inspections for every job site to make sure that all safety rules and laws are being followed.
Private jobs are generally completed by non-union shops to help keep costs down. Non-union companies are not obligated to have safety training that union shops have, and most non-union companies rely on New York City inspectors to point out any safety issues that could be important to workers. The problem is that New York City is understaffed with inspectors, and many non-union job sites do not get visits from inspectors until after a problem has been reported.
Private construction projects are showing a significant increase in fatalities because safety measures are lacking with the largely non-union contractors. Public projects generally hire union companies, which tend to be much more responsible when it comes to safety. Until non-union companies are held to the same standard that union companies hold themselves, private projects will continue to be a source for a shocking number of worker fatalities.