On February 15, 2021, a worker fell from the 17th to the 16th floor while working on an ambitious development called the Aman Hotel and Residences on 5th Avenue in Midtown.
The man, who was in his 60s, according to City documents obtained by Documented through a Freedom of Information Law request, was cleaning the area where a laundry chute was being installed. Ian Waldy, the site’s general superintendent, spoke to the fallen worker before he was taken in an ambulance to the hospital. He had sustained “moderate injuries,” according to the Department of Buildings report.
Three days later, the worker — whose precise identity could not be confirmed by Documented — died due to his injuries.
Documented exposed this incident last year in a story about the renovation led by the general contractor Gilbane Building Company partnering with the Turkish firm Ant Yapi. The story was part of a three part series that examined how construction companies face little accountability after workers die on their sites. More than a year after that construction death, neither Gilbane Building —with a $6.5 billion record income in 2020— nor Gilbane/Ant Yapi Joint Venture have suffered any financial or legal repercussions for the construction death.
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For the February 2021 construction death, the Department of Buildings (DOB) inspector issued a summons to Gilbane Building Company for failing to institute adequate safety measures and slapped it with a $12,500 fine. Concurrently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency, imposed three penalties, that added up to $28,671, to Gilbane/Ant Yapi Joint Venture. The subcontractor Labor Innovations, which directly recruited the worker, was fined $38,228 for the construction death incident.
This was not the only construction site accident Gilbane was involved in.
Gilbane Inc was named in at least seven court cases and 34 other incidents of construction-related injuries in New York and across the United States in 2021. Still, the three companies associated with Gilbane Inc. have largely managed to evade the consequences of their failures.
The Department of Buildings summons was addressed to Gilbane Building, omitting Ant Yapi. For that mistake, the summons was dismissed based during a September 9 telephonic hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) in New York. The appeal filed by the DOB after the decision was also dismissed. OATH’s Appeals Unit determined that Gilbane/Ant Yapi was separate from Gilbane Building Company, even though both entities share the same Rhode Island address.
The overall safety lapses during the renovation of the 730 5th Avenue building triggered 34 Department of Buildings summonses for safety violations addressed to Gilbane/Ant Yapi, which has paid $8,125 in fines. The joint venture has not paid any penalty for the fatality.
All the fines imposed by OSHA to Gilbane in 2021, which amount to $49,492, have been contested, and none of them have been abated as of March 23. For the February 2021 accident, a trial before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission is scheduled for July 6, 2022.
The company has represented an active hazard for workers. According to public records, Gilbane Inc companies were responsible for at least 13 accidents while working on New York City projects in 2021. That made it the construction company with the fourth most accidents in the City last year. Tishman Construction — part of the engineering firm AECOM, with a $13.2 billion revenue in 2020 — accrued 34 accidents in 2021. However, while Tishman had four OSHA inspections in 2021, Gilbane registered 21 OSHA inspections for safety violations that same year.
Gilbane companies operate as open contractors, which means that they hire nonunion labor. Workers are less safe without the protection of a contract backed by a union, whose representatives make sure official safety regulations are met on the site, advocates say. Open contractors also rely on undocumented immigrant laborers, who are vulnerable to abuse and intimidation by the threat of deportation, according to advocates.
A Department of Buildings spokesperson told Documented that the agency will issue a new summons for the February 15, 2021, accident “in the coming days,” now addressed to Gilbane/Ant Yapi Joint Venture.
Evading the payment of penalties reduces the incentives for companies to follow safety regulations and protect workers, advocates say. Just last year, Gilbane was named as a defendant in at least seven complaints filed by workers injured in its projects in New York, according to court documents.
In a case decided at the Supreme Court of New York on November 5, a worker named Rodney Whitted claimed that he was injured while working on a scaffold suspended approximately 38 stories high at a building in the Hudson Yards complex. Unsecured and pushed by the wind gusts, the scaffold crashed three times onto the building, spun 360 degrees and broke a glass window. The scaffold swung for 20 to 25 minutes before Whitted was rescued.
Gilbane lawyers argued that the accident, which occurred in October 2018, was due to an unforeseeable “act of God.”
The judge ruled in Whitted’s favor.