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Will Zero Tolerance Improve Construction Safety in New York

We have all read the headlines of frightening construction accidents that have gripped New York City but now The Building Trades Employers' Association, a group that represents a large number of contractor associations, union management and general contractors, has proposed a safety program to the City Council that they claim will reduce serious construction accidents going forward. The proposal, amplified in the attached Crain's magazine editorial, comes on the heels of Mayor Bill de Blasio adding more than 200 new building inspectors to the city's employee rolls. The proposal, offered by Lou Coletti, the president of the Building Employers Association, suggests the following:

  • Drug and alcohol testing on jobsites.
  • 10 Hour OSHA training requirement
  • Cocoon protections on jobs over 10 stories
  • Increased crane operator accountability

The ambitious proposal recognizes that the construction business is booming in New York City. Coletti cites the massive increase in cranes hovering over the city's skyline as evidence. Indeed, there has been a 30 percent increase in building permits issued or renewed in the last 5 years. Despite that increase, according to Coletti, there was a reduction by 20 percent in the Department of Buildings staff.

The math makes little sense there. Coletti continues to point out that the shortage of personnel at the DOB makes it increasingly difficult to tackle the dangerous safety concerns plaguing the industry. Implementing Coletti's vision requires money and increases in staffing. Thus far, politicians have not devoted the funds necessary for agencies to proactively enforce safety rules and regulations prior to a serious accident occurring. Instead, agencies are forced to be reactionary and only respond after they learn of a devastating accident. That isn't saving lives. At best, it is finding out why a tragedy occurred. It says here that prevention is far superior to investigation in this instance.

We will endeavor to stay out of the politics that are involved in implementing this proposal. The 4four-pronged initiative seems like it can only help make workers safer and that should be the goal. Well-meaning suggestions to increase safety at construction sites are a step in the right direction. We have long been calling for an increased vigilance when it comes to worker safety at construction sites.

Will politicians take the necessary steps to increase worker safety? We have some proposals of our own.

Strengthen - - not weaken - - Worker Safety Laws.

Increase DOB and OSHA Staffing so violations can be detected in advance of an accident.

Keep records of unsafe companies and prevent them from bidding on projects until they demonstrate a strong safety record.

Only allow companies with a strong record for safety to work on municipal projects.

Implement a safety grading program like the program the city uses for restaurant cleanliness. Display the grades at job sites.

Require greater protections for citizen pedestrians at construction sites. Try to more effectively prevent some of the recent well-publicized accidents.

Scrutinize insurance companies and their premiums so safe companies reap the $ benefits when it comes time to get insurance.

If we as a society focus on the problem and consider some of the above suggestions it will save lives. Saving lives certainly warrants at least considering devoting time, money and resources towards our ongoing worker safety epidemic.

We don't always agree with everything The Building Trades Employers' Association stands for but in this instance we can and should all get behind an increased focus on protecting workers.

Block O'Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of construction workers. You may learn more about the firm by reviewing our website at www.blockotoole.com. You may contact us at any time for a free consultation by calling 212.736.5300.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150524/OPINION/150529937/building-site-safety-is-everyones-business