Where are the city’s most dangerous jobs? What are they, and who works them? City officials aren’t exactly sure.
Over the last four years, New York has dished out over $400 million for workers’ compensation payments, but to date there has been no system in place to track the types of injuries suffered by city employees—or find ways to avoid them.
On Thursday, a handful of union leaders and City Council members, led by James Gennaro of Queens, sought to change that by reintroducing a bill called the Workplace Safety Act (Intro 527). It would require the city to keep a detailed tally of its workers’ injuries and cobble that information into an annual report, somewhat similar to the Police Department’s online Compstat system.
New York’s public workers were twice as likely as private-sector workers to suffer injuries on the job in 2001, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor. Workers most vulnerable to harm include firefighters, cops, highway and transit workers, along with city nurses and sanitation workers, who tend to suffer back problems, and mental health workers, who are prone to patient violence.
There’s also a spate of repetitive stress injuries, which plague over 600,000 workers nationally and cost the country’s economy an estimated $50 billion every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Sciences. So, how many city workers have filed claims this year for repetitive stress? “We don’t really know,” said Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group that has pushed for the legislation.
While the Department of Labor collects aggregate data on public-sector accidents, it doesn’t track workers’ comp payouts, explained Lee Clarke, director of safety and health for District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union. “It’s not their job,” she said. But without that information, she added, the city has no way of managing its risk.
The city could have saved $7.8 million if it had reduced last year’s payout by just 5 percent, said Shufro. Just a fraction of that would cover the cost of administering the program. If the city took steps to prevent future injuries, he said, it would save millions more.
Shufro said he first approached the mayor’s office with the idea three years ago, but never got a response. Last year, he succeeded in getting the bill introduced, but it languished in committee and never reached a vote.
The mayor’s office did not respond to City Limits’ calls seeking comment by press time. Nor did the city’s law department, which handles workers’ compensation claims.
This year, with a new committee chair and 19 council co-sponsors, the bill may have a better chance. “We think it’s a no-brainer,” Gennaro said. “And we hope the administration will support it.”