Focus on Construction Safety

By Johan Soltani

As we start 2016, safety remains a top priority of the DOB, and our industry. A frenzy of construction activity spreads throughout New York City, spanning all five boroughs. This boom has unintended consequences, as the increased activity is paralleled with a rise in construction worker accidents causing injuries and even deaths.

Federal safety inspectors and government officials blame the rise in accidents to lack of safety measures in construction sites, suggesting that many accidents were avoidable if minimal safety measures had been taken at the site. Investigators discovered that the many sites did not enforce harness, hard hats or helmets, and supervision was lacking. Many construction sites push the workers to speed up causing short-cuts in safety.

While some site accidents occur in mid-town Manhattan which attracts media attention, the vast majority are occurring in smaller construction sites employing nonunion workers with no experience and no safety measures.  Many of these nonunion workers are undocumented immigrants with no access to health or disability insurance. Many smaller contractors have violations for lack of safety, yet the laws were not enforced to revoke their licenses.

NYC’s City Council committee on Housing and Buildings is preparing several bills for worker protection. One approach is to double the penalties for contractors that work without proper permits, and another is to create a task force to monitor the construction sites for safety risks. The DOB Commissioner has objections to some of these bills – suggesting that if the penalties are too high it might drive the construction work further underground.

Regardless, the City Council is pushing these bills. One bill would require the DOB to report all safety violations to OSHA and another is to require all developments higher that 10 stories to enroll all construction workers undergo training classes.