LIUNA General President  Terry O’Sullivan

Are unionized construction sites safer than non-union ones? As the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction approaches, compelling evidence from New York City indicates fatalities from falls and other causes are less likely to occur at union organized construction sites, where safety regulations that help prevent falls are more likely to be followed and workers tend to be better trained.

Since 2015, more than 40 New York City construction workers have died on the job from falls and other deadly events. Most of these deaths occurred in a two-year window that ended in January of 2017. In that span, 31 construction workers lost their lives, and all but three of them worked at non-union sites. While not incident free, union sites staffed by union workers in New York are proving that experience and a commitment to safety makes a huge difference.

“These numbers show that while no one is perfect, the level of safety on construction sites is not the same across the board,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “What we’re seeing in New York is that providing workers with fall protection and fall prevention training can drastically reduce the number of workers who lose their lives from falls. Both LIUNA members and signatory contractors are proud of their commitment to working safely, whether it’s only a few feet off the ground or hundreds of feet in the air.”

These tragedies coincide with New York City’s biggest office building construction boom in 30 years. The New York Building Congress, which promotes the construction industry in and around New York City, projects that more than 27 million square feet of new office space, construction of which began in 2010, will be completed by the end of 2019.

In the wake of these tragedies, the New York City Department of Buildings implemented Local Law 196: mandated safety training for all demolition and construction workers within the five boroughs for any project requiring a site safety plan. The three-part phase-in of the new law began March 1 with the requirement that all construction workers have completed the OSHA 10-Hour Construction class at minimum. Ultimately, all workers must have a minimum of 40 hours of safety training and obtain a Site Safety Training (SST) card. Full implementation of Local Law 196 will occur between May of 2019 and September of 2020.

How Does the National Safety-Stand Down Help Prevent Falls in Construction?

The National Safety-Stand Down raises awareness about the severity of fall hazards in construction and the importance of preventing them. This is significant as falls are consistently a top cause of construction fatalities. In the U.S. alone, falls from ladders, roofs and scaffolds kill more than 200 construction workers every year and seriously injure more than 10,000. The majority of these tragedies happen because adequate fall protection is not provided or because workers are not adequately trained on how to use it. A voluntary weeklong observance, the Stand-Down is held annually to coincide with the beginning of construction’s busy season. It stresses the importance of:

  • Planning ahead to get the job done safely. Know what tasks will be involved and what type of safety equipment will be needed and deploy fall prevention strategies.
  • Providing the right fall protection equipment. Workers at heights of six feet or more must wear personal fall arrest systems (PFAS). Make sure the PFAS fits and is regularly inspected for safe use.
  • Training everyone to use equipment safely. Workers need to be trained to properly set up and use all equipment safely and recognize the hazards that make using it necessary.

It’s also important to train workers on how to quickly rescue someone who has fallen and been caught by their PFAS. Suspension trauma, also known as harness hang syndrome, is a circulation condition that can occur within minutes when dangling in midair and can be fatal. The best practices above not only help protect workers, but also reduce the risk for delays caused by injuries from falls and the risk for costly workers’ compensation claims.

How to Conduct a Safety Stand-Down

There are a number of ways to conduct a Safety Stand-Down. These include:

  • Toolbox talks on falls and other hazards
  • Review of your company’s safety policies
  • Safety equipment inspections
  • Encouraging employees to speak up about fall hazards

The LHSFNA has developed a number of materials that can be used for a Safety Stand-Down now or throughout the year. These include our toolbox talks Fall Prevention: Guardrails Systems, Ladder Safety and Personal Fall Arrest Systems. These and other health and safety materials can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue or by going to and clicking on Publications.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety & Health Division can also provide guidance on fall prevention and help LIUNA signatory contractors develop a site safety plan for your worksite. For more information, call 202-628-5465.

Other useful information is available at OSHA’s Falls Prevention Campaign website at

[Janet Lubman Rathner]