Despite the uproar that caused Amazon to back out of its HQ2 deal with New York City, a warehouse that could hold 18 football fields recently opened in Staten Island to help the e-commerce giant provide fast service to New York residents. They’re not the only ones. Distribution centers are in high demand as other retailers struggle to catch up with Amazon for their piece of the digital pie.
New York City, as one of the biggest US markets, is reaping the benefits. 7 million square feet of warehouse space was under construction as of the first quarter of 2019, with only 3.4% of the city’s available space sitting vacant according to a report by professional research firm CBRE. Rising demands are prompting builders to work on spec in popular locations nationwide.
Is There a Downside to the Warehouse Boom?
While increased company warehouse presence may seem like a good sign for our economy, the changes come with a price. With the increase in building permits, construction worker accidents that lead to serious injury or death have become more common. Construction work is dangerous; in 2016, it was the cause of 37.5% of workplace deaths, more than any other industry. Though construction-related injuries have dropped since 2018, New York is on track for a similar number of worker fatalities in 2019.
Fewer building permits were issued in 2018 than the year before, however, construction worker demand is still high thanks to plenty of in-progress projects. For those currently on the job, the city is looking for solutions to the high injury rates. Mayor de Blasio recently signed a bill requiring increased safety measures in New York City’s construction sites, making it mandatory for workers to undergo 40 hours of training. The government has also allocated more funds for the Department of Buildings to fight back against the rising death rates.
Complex Buildings for Current Needs
Today’s warehouses are more than just storage spaces that hold boxes between transit. They’re now highly specialized workspaces that integrate software and technologies requested by e-commerce companies. Some of the modifications needed for e-commerce warehouses may increase risk for the construction workers assigned to the job.
- Third-party contractors are hardly unexpected on a construction site, but with the high-tech needs of today’s companies, workers may encounter machines or structures they are unfamiliar with. New contract workers coming into a site may not follow security practices established by the more permanent crew.
- Pressure from e-commerce clients to finish buildings faster may be passed onto project leads, who in turn push workers to sidestep best practices or push forward on projects before it’s safe.
- Warehouses that will support heavy-duty equipment must be made of stronger materials. Fortified floors, walls, and roofs are common—meaning workers must move more heavy materials using large machinery. New, high-tech warehouses also require more electrical capacity, which translates to more shock risk.
- E-commerce warehouse needs are specific, and companies want to know their projects are staffed with experienced workers. However, the rapid growth of New York’s construction sector means companies must often hire new workers. Employee experience gaps can prove deadly.
Stay Safe on Construction Sites
Construction site injuries are often very dangerous and can result in permanent disability or even death. If you or someone you know has been affected by one, they should report the incident to their employer as soon as possible. As buildings continue to go up at high rates, worker safety will only become more important.