Ask Miriam | Construction Creates Safety Questions


Dear Miriam,

There is some shady construction happening in my neighborhood, and I am regularly concerned about safety around the construction site. However, I hesitate to call the authorities because I don’t want the workers to be penalized for their bosses’ mistakes. Further, I’m concerned that if someone visits the site and any of the workers are undocumented immigrants, there could be serious consequences for them. I don’t want anyone deported, but I don’t want anyone to fall into a pit either. What should I do?


Worried about Workers


Dear Worried,

There are certain neighborhoods in Philly right now where it feels like more buildings are under construction than not. There are fences blocking crosswalks, brick dust in the air, nails on sidewalks and open pits in multiple directions. And those are literally just the things I saw walking to the bus this morning. Philly is experiencing real growing pains right now, with what often feels like more rapid growth than the streets or residents can handle.

Your first step should be to talk to the people most directly involved: the workers, the contractor, the owner, etc. Share your concerns. Ask for a timetable for when they’ll be addressed. Based on my own experiences, this will probably be frustrating and not fruitful, but it’s still the right initial action.

There is a lot to say about gentrification, developers, capitalism and many other social implications, but I know I can’t adequately address all the underlying issues that go along with your question and what’s happening in the city. I will say this, though: No one’s safety should be compromised in the interest in a new house. If you see something that is truly unsafe, and the people on site can’t address your concerns, you should call the Department of Licenses & Inspection or 311 or even the fire department, depending on the immediacy of the safety concerns.

However, I can’t define what “truly unsafe” is, and I can’t guarantee that anyone who works for the city will address your concerns in a timely fashion. When I walk past so many construction sites in a given day, I often think, “Either everyone is breaking the law or no one is.” In either case, I’m not sure our city has the infrastructure to address the many ways in which neighborhoods are impacted by such rapid growth.

As for the deeply troubling implications of potentially inadvertently calling attention to undocumented workers, that’s why I’d urge you to figure out whether you are “merely” inconvenienced or actually in danger because of any given situation. Fortunately, Philly is maintaining its status as a Sanctuary City, so some of these issues surrounding immigrants are of less immediate concern than they might be in other places. However, if, each time you see an unsafe building practice, in addition to calling the contractor, you also call your elected officials to advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees, then overall, your concerns will be working toward the greater good.

Be well,



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