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NYC Passes Slew of Construction Safety Bills

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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New York City’s Housing Committee has approved six pieces of 21 construction-related safety proposals in the wake of an increase in construction site deaths. The committee, however, tabled arguably the most important piece of legislation, which pits union and nonunion groups against each other.

What Was Approved?

Two of the bills involve an uptick in site reporting.

  • Intro. 0081-2014 requires the Department of Buildings to report to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration any code violations that could potentially endanger workers. That report must also be forwarded to the Mayor and the Speaker of City Council.
  • Intro. 1433-2017 widens the information that must be reported when there’s a fatality. It also adds a minimum penalty of $2,500 for failure to report the information.
© iStock/zhaojiankang

New York City’s Housing Committee has approved six pieces of 21 construction-related safety proposals in the wake of an increase in construction site deaths.

Three bills are related to crane operations (allegedly spurred by an accident in which a crane collapsed and killed a pedestrian).

  • Intro. 1421-2017 mandates that all mobile cranes have a GPS that transmits its location to the Department of Buildings. If a crane doesn’t have a GPS, its arrival and departure has to be reported to the DOB.
  • Intro. 1446-2017 requires hoisting machine operators to have a license rating to operate large cranes.
  • Intro. 1435-2017 mandates that all cranes have event recorders to collect data on crane configurations, overloads, status of limit switches and operator overrides. This information would be made available to the DOB upon request.

The last bill is more related to site safety.

  • Intro. 1448-2017 says that any construction on a building that’s more than four stories high must have a construction superintendent. Those projects also must have a complete safety plan on site.

Chair of the Committee, Jumaane Williams acknowledged that the City has moved slowly in regard to updating the guidelines.

“I do think we moved a little slowly as a City on the amount of people who died, but I am glad we are moving at the pace we are now,” he said.

The Numbers

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health released a study in January that highlights the rise in construction site fatalities, finding that the annual death rate rose from 33 in 2006 to 55 in 2015. A separate trade union analysis found that in the last two years, 30 worker deaths have occurred on NYC job sites.

The NYCOSH report most notably found that 90 percent of the fatalities were caused by worksite safety violations and 59 percent were the result of a fall.

Some have reasoned that because New York is seeing a construction boom in general, that proportionately it makes sense for other stats, tragic or not, to rise as well.

“As there is more and more construction—let’s look at the core of this problem,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have the highest amount of construction we’ve had basically in decades since before the Great Recession. We want more safety on construction sites. We’re pushing very hard for that."

© iStock/ercanozay

The NYCOSH report most notably found that 90 percent of the fatalities were caused by worksite safety violations and 59 percent were the result of a fall.

Others have criticized those sentiments and have echoed Williams’ statement that officials should have been moving on new regulations sooner.

“The mayor has said that it’s because there is so much construction in the city—that is not the reason,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. “If we are seeing numbers like this, the city is responsible for letting this happen,” Crowley said. “The city needs to say 'yes, it’s our fault'—so I’m glad the Council is finally addressing this issue because the mayor’s office is failing to do it.”

“We cannot simply just say because we are building more we should expect more injuries and deaths,” Williams said.

Ongoing Controversy

The most controversial finding in the NYCOSH report states that 74 percent of fatality sites were non-union in 2015 (the last year for data in that study).

That has led union officials to push for Intro. 1447-2017, which would require construction workers on a job of 10 stories or taller to participate in an apprenticeship or have comparable work experience. Many apprenticeship programs are union-backed, so some officials—like the Mayor—say that the regulation would be impractical.

Union officials, however, point to the numbers and say that union-affiliated sites are safer because non-union workers haven’t been trained according to their standards.

The Real Estate Board of New York has reported that most accidents occur in buildings with fewer than 10 stories. Therefore, the organization argues, the proposed mandate would unfairly target big developers and would just be a ploy for unions to gain members.

Both the REBNY and Mayor de Blasio suggest increased inspections and larger penalties for violations instead of the apprenticeship mandate.

The rest of the propositions are expected to be voted on “soon,” according to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Safety

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