Twenty-one bills dealing with construction safety have been introduced in the New York City Council. These bills pit developers, construction companies and unions against one another.
Construction injuries across New York State are up 40 percent, according to a January 2017 report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH).
The experienced personal-injury attorneys at Parker Waichman can answer questions about construction accidents and construction workers’ rights.
Increased Training Requirements
If these bills pass, there will be increased penalties for some violations. The bills would also require site-safety plans for buildings over three stories. The most controversial provision, however, is the mandate for worker training programs.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in 2015 there were 17 construction worker fatalities in New York City. In 2016, fatalities dipped to 14. Statistics from the Buildings Department listed 11 on-the-job fatalities and a civilian death for both years. The president of the Building and Construction Trades Council attributes these deaths mainly to inadequate training. “Right now there is no training standard,” he said.
The Real Estate Board of New York opposes the requirement for apprenticeship programs, claiming this is simply a mandate for union labor. John Banks, president of the board, says mandating apprenticeship programs on virtually every site “will do nothing to guarantee worker safety.” But the board did agree to support some mandated safety training, like OSHA’s 10-hour program. And Banks had positive comments about some of the bills in the package, which he said would implement the industry’s best practices on job sites.
The Real Estate Board is not the only entity opposing apprenticeship requirements. The Association of Building Contractors, a trade group for nonunion builders, argues that an apprenticeship requirement would exclude many black and Hispanic public housing residents from construction jobs.
According to Crain’s, New York City’s union construction workforce is 45 percent white, while the nonunion workforce is 25 percent white. Blacks account for 21 percent of union and 16 percent of nonunion construction workers in the city. Hispanics comprise 49 percent of nonunion workers and 31 percent of union members.
Six of the bills relate to the use of cranes, according to Crain’s New York Business, Older cranes would be phased out of service and additional restrictions would be imposed on crane operation on windy days. Another bill would force the Buildings Department to track incidents resulting in hospitalizations or deaths.
Safety Equipment and Training Can Prevent Most Accidents
The NYCOSH report says most construction site injuries are preventable through a combination of proper safety equipment and procedures. But the report says proper precautions are often ignored, resulting in injuries, deaths, and economic losses for workers and their families. In 2014 and 2015, the majority of fatalities occurred in non-union work zones (80% in 2014; 74% in 2015). Of the contractors OSHA cited multiple times, 93 percent are non-union contractors. Non-union job sites have twice as many violations as their union counterparts. Experts say the current construction boom in New York City puts pressure on contractors to fill slots, even if the workers lack appropriate skills and training.
NYCOSH stresses that education and training are important elements in construction site safety. The reports recommends that all New York City constructions workers be required to complete OSHA 10, the agency’s 10-hour construction safety training program, or its equivalent. OSHA 10 provides training on the most common hazards construction workers face on the job. New York City currently requires OSHA 10 training for workers on buildings 10 stories or higher or with footprints greater than 100,000 square feet. NYCOSH says this training should be mandatory for all construction workers, regardless of the size of the project.
NYCOSH supports adding requiring apprenticeship programs. Government-recognized apprenticeship programs have rigorous training requirements that combine on-the-job learning with technical instruction. Workers who complete an apprenticeship receive industry-recognized certification.
The report also recommends increased monitoring and enforcement and retention of New York’s Scaffold Safety Law, which holds building site owners and employers fully liable for worker injuries and deaths resulting from unsafe conditions at worksites with scaffolds.
Falls are the most common accidents at construction sites and falls account for nearly 60 percent of all construction-related injuries and deaths in New York, a rate far above the national average of 36 percent. NYCOSH says many fatal falls are preventable, if construction companies follow OSHA regulations for proper construction of scaffolding and proper use of harnesses and other personal protective equipment.
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