Those involved in construction or living in the tri-state area have undoubtedly been following New York City’s contentious Construction Safety Bill. With more New York City construction workers losing their lives each year, and mounting protests from workers, their families and construction companies, City Council proposed new legislation to reduce employee jobsite deaths through better training. On September 27th, following eight months of debate, New York City Council voted unanimously to approve Bill 1447, which would require construction workers on sites above ten stories to complete at least 40 hours of safety training. The vote came less than one week after two construction workers died on the same day at two separate Manhattan jobsites.
While everyone agrees that construction safety must be a priority, industry stakeholders have differing opinions on how best to accomplish that. Construction accidents have climbed in recent years, and in the case of worker fatalities, subsequent investigations determined that in the hustle to finish projects, corners tended to be cut, basic training not completed, and adequate fall prevention practices not followed.
The Safety Imperative
According to the Department of Buildings (DOB), eight construction workers have died this year, in addition to twenty-four worker fatalities in 2015 and 2016. These numbers exceed the rate of new building and are a stark contrast to eight total fatalities in 2014.
Currently, a DOB-licensed Site Safety Coordinator must be present on city projects between 10 and 14 stories, and a Site Safety Manager must be present on projects with 15 stories and higher or more than 100,000 square feet.
Following public outcry and worker protest, Bill 1447-A was introduced In January 2017, the most consequential piece of legislation in a larger Construction Safety Act designed to increase safety measures. The bill proposed increasing required worker training to 59 hours – almost six times current OSHA-10 certification requirements. As part of implementation, companies would utilize a 14-person team selected by Mayor De Blasio and City Council.
Concerns, Questions and Compromise
While generally speaking, the more safety training the better, opponents of the bill were concerned that 59 hours would be too sharp an increase and would further dissuade new workers from joining the industry – a legitimate concern given the skilled labor shortage. What’s more, opponents worried that the new training requirements would disadvantage smaller, independent contractors and day laborers, many of whom are minorities that may lack the funds or language skills to complete training.
The bill that passed in September decreased the number of required training hours from 59 to 40 hours. Intro 1447 requires workers to complete the full, 40-hour training by December 2018, but OSHA-10 or the equivalent must be completed by March 2019. After passing this course, workers must then complete 30 more hours of training, of which eight will be dedicated to the dangers of falling objects and workers on-the-job. In the case that the DOB determines there is an insufficient number of training facilities available to workers, the compliance deadline will be pushed back to September 2020. Any workers who have completed the equivalent of this training, and those who have completed a 100-hour training course, such as those in union apprenticeships, are considered exempt. The final version of the bill also pledged $5 million for day laborers and independent contractors who might not be able to afford the training otherwise.
Though implementation of the proposal may take some time, Intro 1447 makes strides to ensure that each worker returns home safely at the end of the day, which is something everyone involved in the industry can support. Although training is a necessary first step, mistakes happen with even the most experienced crew, and leveraging wearable safety technologies to improve jobsite visibility and safety data to refine processes and procedure, will go a long way towards building a robust safety culture at any project site. Viewed together, the bill represents a meaningful safety and training increase, and a compromise nonetheless.