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By Duane Craig
March 5, 2018
New York City is beefing up its safety requirements for construction workers in light of rising accidents on construction sites. Local Law 196, which went into effect March 1, requires that all workers on certain jobs have at least 10 hours of safety training. The city is phasing in the full requirements of the law over the next 14 months.
Controversy, Of Course
The new law has its controversy. The Real Estate Board, developers and opponents of the law claim the accidents happen on projects with 10 stories or less, many of which aren't covered in the new law. Opponents claim minority workers wouldn't be able to meet the costs of the training if employers don't pay, and minority contractors might also be hurt by the training costs.
Some maintain the law benefits unions since their members will get credit from their union apprenticeship training to apply toward the requirement. Developers previously proposed using more stringent fall protection instead of imposing a blanket training requirement.
Unions and proponents of the law claim the majority of the accidents happen on nonunion sites. They also counter that since the training is a job requirement related to safety, the costs should fall to the project and not unduly burden any contractor or worker. Proponents claim those who don't have equal access to training can get help through a funding mechanism in the law. Any training that applies from union membership is only valid if it was received within five years from when the rules take effect so union workers don't receive a blanket pass on the training.
The Accident History
NYC's construction accident rate rose disproportionately to the rise in issued building permits in recent years. For example, in 2014, there were 231 accidents and 170,785 permits issued; 2015 saw 435 accidents and 182,714 permits issued; 2016 experienced 593 accidents and 190,999 building permits were issued. In 2017, there were 645 accidents and 195,355 issued permits.
As of February 23, NYC issued more than 24,000 building permits in 2018, according to NYC OpenData. Permits issued in recent years:
The New York Building Congress predicts a slight increase in the city's construction spending for 2018 ($42.3 billion) over 2017 ($42.1 billion). So if the city manages to hold the accident rate to one matching 2017, it could still have 475 or more construction accidents this year. Because NYC's accident statistics show accidents resulting in injury or death, that translates to at least 475 injuries and 10 or more deaths, based on statistics from the past three years.
While falls are the biggest single danger on NYC construction sites, the accidents from falls have declined in recent years. Falling workers and falling materials figured in 63 percent of accidents in 2014, compared to 43 percent in 2017.
Perspective on Key Challenges
As the city and interested parties hammered out the law's details it became clear to some that it's full effects might be less troubling than originally thought. Joe Hogan, vice president of building services for the Associated General Contractors of New York State said he thought the long term negative effects on contractors would be minimal. Hogan also believes there could be a softening in the time frames for compliance because of the challenges in getting everyone initially trained.
Implementing the law does have some potential issues.
The five year retraining rule requires the retraining to happen during the final year of the five-year period. Hogan thought the volume of retraining when done that way might be difficult to achieve. Instead, he said it might be better to make safety training an annual continuing education requirement so it gets spread throughout the five years.
Tracking compliance could pose problems too, especially because of the five year retraining rule. Contractors ensuring compliance of all employees across multiple subcontractors could face a daunting tracking challenge. Hogan noted that myComply, a safety certificate tracking solution now integrated with Procore, showed how current technology could help with the new law’s compliance challenges during a recent AGC NYS meeting.
Changes on the Table
Although the AGC NYS is not on the task force advising the city on the law, Hogan said the organization has highlighted trouble areas and recommended changes. The organization's suggestions include:
— Addressing the cost issue, especially for minority contractors and others.
— Moving the December 1 deadline for completing Phase 2 to a later date.
— Establishing training log requirements to take advantage of technology in tracking compliance and issuing safety cards.
— Keeping the additional hours beyond the OSHA 30 to 20 hours or less.
— Aligning the training requirements with the work typically done by each contractor type.
— Allowing other additional training hours to count, like those for scaffold training so there isn't repetitive training.
— Focusing on making the requirements based on OSHA 30 instead of both OSHA 10 and OSHA 30.
Local Law 196 amended various parts of NYC Construction Codes. It also added section 3321 which sets the new requirements for construction safety training as well as the fines for violations.
When a permit holder violates section 3321.1 by not meeting safety training requirements they face a fine of at least $5,000. The commissioner can reduce fines for first offenders to at least $2,500. When a building permit holder doesn't comply with section 3321.2 by failing to ensure safety training, certifying its compliance methods and keeping a daily log at the construction site, they face a fine of $2,500.
Offenders can get reduced fines if they show they paid the cost for just one worker to get the training necessary to comply with the new law. The new Construction Codes section 28.112.12 also added by Local Law 196, covers these reduced fines.
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