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Shifts In NYC's Construction Safety Landscape For 2018

As we enter the new year, construction safety continues to be a priority for New York City officials, and rightly so. Two major changes to the city code will have a big effect on the industry. One aims to reduce accidents by imposing heightened training requirements. The other, however, limits the financial penalties the city can pursue against negligent parties in serious or fatal construction accidents.

Intro 1447: More safety training for construction workers

Construction has been booming across New York City in recent years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. That boom, however, comes at a price.

Last year alone, more than 600 construction workers were injured on the job, and nine were killed. Our city saw more than 40 construction-related deaths between 2015 and 2017.

A new safety bill seeks to reduce that trend during the coming year. Passed unanimously by the City Council last fall, the bill - known as Intro 1447 - requires construction workers to undergo 40 to 55 hours of safety training. It replaces the old requirement of only 10 hours. The city is contributing $5 million toward the training initiative.

Who has to undergo training?

All construction and demolition workers - both union and non-union - who will be on jobs in New York City must comply with the new training requirements. However, you might be exempt if:

  • You have already completed substantially similar training, or
  • You have completed an apprenticeship requiring 100 hours of training.

A worker would have to have completed the requirements for an exemption within the last five years in order to qualify.

The three phases of training

The training will be broken up into three phases:

  • Phase 1 involves completing a 10-hour OSHA course by March. At this stage, workers will receive a Temporary Site Safety Training (SST) card allowing them to work for six months while completing the remaining training.
  • Phase 2 requires completing 30 hours of training within six months after phase 1. Workers will then receive a limited SST card allowing them to work until they finish the final phase.
  • Phase 3 requires completing the remaining hours of training within five months after phase 2 to achieve full compliance and receive an unrestricted SST.

Of these trainings, at least eight hours must focus on fall hazards and falling objects - leading dangers in the construction industry.

The timeframe for completion

The initial target for training completion is December 2018. However, if there aren't enough training facilities to meet this goal, the deadline may get extended to 2020. A task force with representatives from all segments of the construction industry will monitor training content and coordinate with the Department of Buildings to ensure adequate availability.

Intro 1419-A: Softened penalties for construction safety violations

Another major construction-related bill hit the mayor's desk this month. The bill - Intro 1419-A - initially sought to increase penalties for construction safety violations, imposing a minimum fine of $500,000 (and a maximum of $1.5 million) for those resulting in serious injuries or death.

This proposal met with staunch opposition from builders and construction companies. They voiced concern that the fines would put a damper on construction businesses, especially since those fines aren't covered by insurance yet still lead to skyrocketing premiums. Opponents also criticized the bill for failing to let construction companies off the hook when accident victims' own negligence is a contributing factor.

The City Council later amended the bill to address these concerns. As passed, it no longer imposes minimum penalties for serious safety violations. Instead, it caps those penalties at $500,000 (for construction companies) and $150,000 (for individuals). These penalties may only be awarded against defendants whose negligence contributed to the accident. Additionally, they must have known (or should have known) about the safety violation and been in a position to remedy it.

Judges may use discretion and consider the financial ability of the company to pay in determining a penalty

The most controversial part of the bill involves a factor apparently designed to protect small companies from going out of business. In determining the appropriate amount of fines in a given case, judges must consider:

  • Whether the defendant has any history of safety violations
  • The severity of the resulting injuries
  • The degree of negligence or recklessness on the part of the defendant
  • The defendant's financial resources

In essence, the bill allows for discretion in deciding what an appropriate penalty should be. One factor a judge may consider is the defendant's ability to pay. Understandably, this has been a source of controversy. Some trade associations and unions argue that this provision sends the wrong message, placing more value on the lives of workers at large, financially stable companies while devaluing the lives of workers at smaller companies.

Looking ahead: An uncertain prognosis

It remains to be seen how these two bills will affect construction safety. Will the substantial increase in training requirements result in fewer accidents and injuries during the coming year? And will the sliding-scale penalty scheme be sufficient to deter construction companies from allowing violations to happen?

Only time will tell.