A worker who was repairing a facade to a 20-story coop in Kips Bay, Manhattan, died after a portion of the building collapsed on him. A month later, a worker at the site of a six-story residential condo in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was crushed by a forklift.
While construction is a dangerous industry everywhere, a report revealed that—with around 20 deaths a year and hundreds of injuries—it’s the most dangerous industry in New York City. The mayor and city council members aimed to change those statistics through a city ordinance that requires training for construction workers and their bosses.
The city requires large construction sites to post multilingual signs about upcoming training requirements. Workers at certain sites must have at least 30 hours of training, with 62 hours of training required for supervisors. Soon, these training requirements for workers will increase to 40 hours.
A Dangerous Industry
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly 6.5 million people work in the construction industry at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation.
The industry has a higher than average fatality rate and poses risks to workers, including:
- Falls from heights: Falls from heights are the most common source of workplace fatalities in the construction industry. Some frequent human-error reasons for falls include unstable work surfaces and misuse or failure to use fall protection equipment. OSHA recommends the use of guardrails, fall protection systems, safety nets, coverings over holes in flooring, and personal body harnesses to prevent deadly falls.
- Scaffolding collapses: About 2.3 million construction workers work on scaffolds, and there are approximately 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths each year involving improper use of the equipment. Some of the requirements that OSHA has for the safe use of scaffolds include ensuring that the apparatus is sound, placed on solid footing, and can carry its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load without settling or becoming displaced. The apparatus must not be erected, dismantled, altered or moved unless under the direct supervision of a manager, supervisor, or another competent person. It must be at least 10 feet from electrical lines at all times. Unstable objects like barrels, boxes, loose bricks, or concrete blocks must never support scaffolding. Employers must repair or replace any damaged accessories used to fix scaffolding in place.
- Trench collapses: Trench collapses result in dozens of injuries and fatalities each year. Contractors must ensure workers Workers should ensure that they never enter an unprotected trench. A registered professional engineer should be contracted to design a trench that is at least 20 feet deep, and trenches should be carefully inspected for defects after rainstorms, vibrations, or excessive surcharge loads. Furthermore, there should always be a way for workers to exit the trench by ladder, if needed.
- Ladders and stairways: OSHA reports that nearly 25,000 injuries and 36 fatalities each year are caused by workers falling down ladders or stairways at construction sites. Nearly half of the injuries caused in this manner are serious enough to require time off from work. OSHA stresses the need for supervisors and workers to always select the right length of ladder for the job and to visually inspect the ladder for defects or hazards, such as grease that may result in a slip and fall. Additionally, the ladder should handle the weight of the user as well as any materials or tools that the worker uses. Stairways should be free of debris and items that could result in a slip and fall or trip and fall situation. Stairways having more than four steps should be equipped with a handrail.
- Forklifts: Forklifts and other powered industrial trucks are responsible for the deaths of around 100 construction workers each year and the injuries of around 95,000 more. OSHA emphasizes proper training and certification of forklift operators and warns that workers should not make or modify attachments that affect the capacity and safe operation of the forklift. Workers should be trained on the proper procedures for picking up, moving, setting down, and stacking loads. The forklift should be properly maintained, used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and inspected for defects before each use.
- Electric shock and/or arc flash or arc blast: Electrical sources can cause severe injuries, fatalities, and damage to property and equipment. No work on new or energized circuits should be conducted before all power is shut off and grounds are attached. There should be an effective Lockout/Tagout system in place, as well. Cords and cables should be protected from damage, and frayed cords or cables should be replaced. Protective systems or devices designed to protect workers against electricity should be in use, overhead lines should be located and identified, and all equipment and materials should never be used within 10 feet of electric lines.
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment: Personal protective equipment should always be in use when working around hazardous chemicals to prevent burns, respiratory injury, and explosions. A material safety data sheet should be available for all chemicals used at the job site, and workers should receive training on the proper spill cleanup procedures.
Local Law 196 was passed to improve safety at New York City construction sites. The law was added as an amendment to the city’s building code. As part of the law, a task force was formed to determine the number of training hours required, as well as the topics that should be included in training for workers and supervisors at large construction sites. The task force required that all workers have a minimum of 10 hours of training.
One of the following courses could satisfy the requirement:
- An OSHA 10-hour class
- An OSHA 30-hour class
- A 100-hour training program approved by the state
All workers at large construction sites must have a Limited Site Safety Training Card, ensuring that they have obtained at least 30 hours of training. Workers could accomplish this by completing the OSHA 10-hour class, plus additional safety courses. The coursework varies, and workers have the option to take electives on topics that they find engaging.
Upon completion of required courses, course providers must issue the participant a wallet-sized Site Safety Training card with the following features:
- Document security features to avoid forgery and counterfeiting. It should not be possible to reproduce the cards using commonly used methods that are readily available to the general public.
- The participant’s card must contain a unique identification card number.
- There must be a photograph of the applicant on the card, along with the printed and signed name of the cardholder.
- The card must also include the date of issuance as well as expiration, and the name of the issuer.
- The card must also include details as to the type of training and the hours that the worker completed.
Site Safety Training Cards expire after five years, meaning that workers will have to apply to renew them and take additional refresher courses on fall prevention and scaffold use. Those seeking building permits for major construction projects within New York City must certify to the building department that all workers performing job duties under the permit have completed the requisite training.
In addition to training, general contractors must now also display signage regarding worker safety information. These signs must contain specific information about worker safety training, including all site safety training deadlines and required training hours.
The signs must be available in all languages used for communication by workers at the site. The signs must be at least 44 inches wide and 30 inches high, with letters no smaller than one inch tall. The sign must feature white letters on a blue background and must be made of a weatherproof and flame retardant material, such as vinyl, plastic, or aluminum. The signs must be placed on construction fencing at all points of egress so that workers are sure to see them.
For the convenience of contractors around the city, the building department created signs with the appropriate language and other requirements that can be downloaded from its website in the following languages:
- Chinese, both simplified and traditional
- Haitian Creole
To Whom Does the Law Apply?
Those who must meet the required training include:
- Workers at job sites that are required to designate a construction superintendent, site safety coordinator, or site safety manager.
- Workers for small companies that work as subcontractors at job sites where safety coordinators or managers are required.
- Demolition workers at sites requiring safety personnel.
- Supervisors at the above-mentioned job sites, including site safety managers, site safety coordinators, concrete safety managers, construction supervisors, and “competent persons” in managerial positions at construction sites.
The Law Does Not Apply to Everyone on Construction Sites
Those who work at construction sites but do not have to complete the required training hours include:
- Delivery persons
- Professional engineers
- Registered architects
- Filing representatives
- Security officers
- Service technicians
- Concrete inspectors or concrete testing laboratories
- Department licensees, although people working under their direct supervision do need training.
- Department registrants, except for safety professionals
- Workers—other than site safety managers, site safety coordinators, concrete safety managers, and construction supervisors—at job sites that only involve minor alterations or the construction of a new one-, two-, or three-family home.
What Are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?
If the building department discovers that there are untrained workers on construction sites, the owner of the property, the permit-holder, and the employer of the untrained worker face penalties of up to $5,000 per untrained worker. Violators can mitigate such penalties if they agree to sponsor training for the untrained worker. The department also maintains the right to conduct unscheduled inspections of sites where untrained workers have been found.
If a permit-holder fails to maintain a log demonstrating that all workers on the site have been properly trained, they may face a penalty of up to $2,500.
Is the Law Working?
An early report indicates that Local Law 196 is having its desired effect: fewer construction injuries. Despite the city currently experiencing one of the biggest construction booms in the last quarter of a century, with nearly $21.9 billion being poured into commercial and office buildings, injuries are continuing to drop within the construction sector. Workplace injuries at New York City construction sites were down by 26 percent during (483 injuries), compared to the same period the previous year (657 injuries).
In addition to the required training, which workers at large sites are now receiving, the city’s Construction Safety Compliance Unit has also been conducting more random inspections of sites to ensure adherence to required safety precautions.
At the time of publication, the city had 38 inspectors with 10 new trainees. More than $15 million in penalties have been paid out by companies not complying with safety requirements across New York City’s five boroughs. Workers have cited easier access through training, which can be obtained online, along with webinars and assessments. Additionally, workers can train remotely, using employer resources to do so.
The improvements are a far cry from the situation just a few years ago, when it was reported that 72 percent of the worker deaths at New York City construction sites occurred on worksites where employees did not receive the proper state-approved training.
Were you injured in an accident at a construction site? An experienced workers’ comp lawyer can talk to you about your injuries and help you through the process of filing a claim.