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NYC Hit with Surprise Worksite Inspections

Monday, December 2, 2019

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In an effort to reduce the amount of construction worker injuries in New York City, a team of building inspectors has formed to conduct surprise inspections at various major construction project jobsites.

Since September 2018, the group of inspectors—a total of 38 inspectors with plans to increase that number to 53—has completed 20,166 surprise inspections at 10,256 construction sites within the city. Of the surprise inspections conducted, 11,484 violations have been issued, totaling $15 million in fines by the team since becoming fully operational.

Construction Safety in NYC

According to city data, construction injuries increased 61% to 761 incidents within a year, compared to only 472 in 2015. To bring the statistics down, Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler announced in May 2018 that the Department of Buildings would be mandating that workers at certain job sites complete 40 hours of safety training, and that supervisors complete 62 hours of training.

The announcement is a clarification of Local Law 196, which was signed in October 2017 by Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the time, the law dictated that by March 2018, workers were required to have at least 10 hours of safety training and by December 2018, workers are required to have 30 hours of training. (Supervisors were always mandated with the 62 hours.)

gerenme / Getty Images

In an effort to reduce the amount of construction worker injuries in New York City, a team of building inspectors has formed to conduct surprise inspections at various major construction project jobsites.

However, when the law was signed, de Blasio left the hours subject to change, as well as the curriculum, and a task force was set up to iron out the details.

Crain’s reported that the task force met only once, in February, before making its recommendations for the now-approved 40-hour requirement, which applies to workers at sites for which the DOB requires construction superintendents, site-safety coordinators or site-safety managers.

Deadlines have also since been cemented. While the March deadline for 10 hours held, the December deadline for the 30 (or 62) hours was extended to June 1, 2019, if the DOB determines that “there is insufficient training capacity.”

By November, the June extension was used, and beyond that, workers would also be required to take an additional 10 hours of training by Sept. 1, 2020.

In January, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released new numbers (from 2017) on work-related fatalities and injuries in New York City, finding that the construction industry still leads with the most on-the-job deaths.

In April, New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the city’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, promised to ensure Local Law 196 is put into effect, after the city suffered from a chain of construction worker deaths, some occurring within the same week.

Cornegy responded to the series of accidents by saying, “[It’s] a chilling reminder of the danger the men and women who build our city are subjected to day in and day out.

“It is also a reminder of the importance of implementing the construction site safety training mandates of Local Law 196 of 2017, which will be a vitally important way to prevent future fatalities like these.”

However, the following month, a second extension was granted for the increased safety training requirements as administered by OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 to Dec. 1, 2019. The change also granted the Department of Buildings with the option to extend training a third time, so long as the agency announced its decision by Sept. 1. No changes to the 40-hour requirement due by Sept. 1, 2020, were reported.

In July, the DOB released an interactive map showing the location of all the construction sites in New York City where workers and supervisors must have site safety training under 2017’s Local Law 196.

This map is one component of the Department’s broader efforts to raise awareness about the Local Law 196 training requirements and deadlines, to ensure that all construction workers and contractors are aware of the new rules, the DOB said.

Every site on the map—which is updated daily—has a link to information in the DOB’s online database.

A few months later in October, New York City-based organizations Building Skills New York and Public Housing Communities Inc. announced the option to receive free OSHA-30 training in order to help construction workers meet their Dec. 1 deadline.

“Building Skills believes that New York City’s ongoing construction boom must continue to provide good jobs for residents of the communities in which new projects are being built,” said David Meade, executive director of Building Skills New York.

“We are taking another step to advance that mission ... to ensure that more locally based workers have the safety training they need to gain and maintain good construction jobs.”

On Nov. 6, Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca and Department of Buildings staff members visited 1,000 construction sites throughout the five boroughs in a day-long public outreach called “Day of Action” in order to alert and remind construction workers about the upcoming safety training deadline.

However, only a week after the “Day of Action,” four workers were reportedly injured in Manhattan after a scaffold collapsed at the $25 billion Hudson Yards megaproject along 10th Avenue. The accident occurred on the 18th floor of a 58-story, 2.9 million-square-foot, $3.8 billion building that’s currently under construction.

While Bisnow reported that this was the first accident at the high-profile project, fall accidents have plagued New York City construction projects, with a recent uptick prompting new safety training mandates in Local Law 196.

What’s Happening Now

According to reports, the inspectors have been conducting these surprise visits to major construction sites, which usually involve new construction or renovation projects in buildings four stories or higher. In addition to the violations previously mentioned, the team has also written 2,523 stop-work orders for various safety supervision violations and dangerous working conditions.

Over the last nine months—since the team began the unexpected inspections—the city’s total number of accidents has reportedly reduced by 26%, compared to the same period last year.

samaro / Getty Images

According to reports, the inspectors have been conducting these surprise visits to major construction sites, which usually involve new construction or renovation projects in buildings four stories or higher.

“It’s a total game-changer,” said La Rocca. “This is the first time that we’ve had a unit dedicated to 100% proactive visits to larger construction sites.”

While surprise inspections continue, violations inspectors will be looking for:

  • Compliance with existing construction safety regulations;
  • Correct scaffold safety measures;
  • Crane installation and use according to approved plans; and
  • Adequate fall protection systems.

However, The New York Times reports that some construction workers and their advocates claim that much more work still needs to be done in order to successfully prevent accidents as workers are often put at risk by lack of coordination through different contractors, are pressured by time and various workplace issues that can lead to shortcuts, inadequate enforcement and lack of safety training.

Others claim that the inspections are a nuisance that disrupts work, causes unnecessary fines, paperwork and is frustrating owners and contractors to the point of feeling a need to “push back.”

Louis J. Coletti, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, feels in opposition, noting that the inspections could benefit everyone if the city helped to improve safety, instead of just penalizing.

“Based on the safety record of my contractors, unscheduled inspections are not something we’re fearful of,” Coletti said. “We want to ensure all our jobs are safe.”

While the inspection team is slated to continue their random visits, de Blasio and La Rocca announced on Nov. 22 that DOB inspectors would be conducting proactive sweeps at over 6,000 construction sites throughout the city.

The sweep comes in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline, mandating that all workers and supervisors have completed their mandatory hours of safety training.

“As the holidays approach, building inspectors are making their list and checking it twice to ensure every relevant site is following the rules and keeping its workers safe,” said de Blasio. “Having every worker and supervisor on major construction sites appropriately trained by December 1 isn’t just about following the law—it’s about saving lives.”

Work sites that are discovered to be unsafe for workers could face penalties of up to $25,000 for each safety violation or could be shut down in the event of serious safety lapses.

Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, concluded:f “I commend the consistent efforts of Commissioner La Rocca and the Department of Buildings to improve construction site safety across the City.

“They have made it clear that the Department is laser-focused on improving safety for workers and the public, and they have been great partners in this work. These actions help save lives and avoid preventable tragedies.”


Tagged categories: Construction; Ethics; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Inspection; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Safety; Safety Data Sheets; Violations; Worker training; Workers

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