Op-Ed, as published on CrainsNewYork.com

 

How to fix a problematic construction-safety bill

Between the positions of the legislation’s most fervent supporters and opponents is the right one. Here it is.

By Jim Bifulco

 

New York City’s construction boom is costing more than a few dollars—it’s costing lives. Construction-related injuries can be prevented and fatalities are unacceptable. The City Council has introduced legislation, Intro. 1447A, which seeks to improve worker training, as part of the Construction Safety Act. Making construction safety a legislative priority is vital. However, as written, the bill will do more damage to the industry than good, while not achieving its intended results.

The Construction Safety Advisory Committee of New York (CSACNY), a nonprofit dedicated to improving construction safety for all workers, reviewed the bill and provided recommendations to the council to ensure the intent of the bill is realized. Several components of the legislation were identified as flawed, and would result in the creation of unnecessary new training materials, duplicative training for workers, widespread unemployment, significant project slowdowns throughout the city, and entire job site shutdowns.

The 59 hours of training required by the legislation appears to have been determined arbitrarily, with unnecessarily inflated hours required for certain segments. For example, the required training in personal protective equipment (PPE) teaches workers how to properly wear protective gear such as, helmets, goggles, gloves, boots, etc. The standard industry PPE courses take approximately two to four hours to complete, yet Intro. 1447A requires nine hours of PPE coursework, forcing training providers to generate five to seven hours of needless additional training. This new course material will likely be unsubstantial “filler” material that will not improve worker safety.

Accredited comprehensive training programs already exist. The council should amend the bill so it does not force the unnecessary creation of new hybrid training content to fulfill ad hoc requirements. Having to do so would result in extensive delays in training implementation because of a lack of available qualified courses. New coursework will require Department of Buildings approval before it can be offered—further delaying implementation and preventing workers from having the means to acquire proper training quickly.

The current bill would not provide workers credit for any previously completed training courses, forcing trained workers to unnecessarily retake courses. This would result in loss of paid work hours and jeopardize workers’ livelihoods. Including a grandfather clause would ensure workers receive credit for training already completed through established, recognized training programs.

Additionally, the legislation should institute a staggered implementation of training requirements to allow the tens of thousands of workers in the industry adequate time to secure training without falling prey to unemployment. Without it, the bill would bring New York’s construction industry to a halt as thousands of construction workers, trained and untrained, would be prohibited from stepping onto job sites until all 59 hours of training are completed.

Exacerbating the construction industry slowdown is language that calls for the issuance of a stop work order, meaning the shutdown of an entire construction site, if just one single construction worker on site cannot provide the proper training cards when asked by officials. This provision would halt construction sites across the city at a moment’s notice if, for instance, a worker left their wallet at home.

Construction safety standards can be achieved through effective, efficient means. Intro. 1447A should be modified to require training courses already established and available—courses that have been thoroughly developed and vetted by leaders in construction safety training such as OSHA and the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET)—in order to ensure full and fast industry compliance. By requiring existing safety training courses, untrained workers will be able to comply quickly and easily; already trained workers will be able to seamlessly grandfather in their completed courses rather than repeat them; and safety training providers will be able to easily accommodate the increased demand for training.

CSACNY has proposed 46 hours of safety training for every construction worker, with the exception of those working on one-, two- and three-family homes. This training would include established coursework, specifically the 30-hour OSHA, eight-hour Site Safety Manager, 4-hour Supported Scaffold User, and the four-hour Specific Fall Protection Training. These courses are industry standards readily available to workers and proven to provide the training needed to prevent accidents and injuries.

The men and women who don the hard hats and build our great city must have the training needed to protect themselves, co-workers and passing pedestrians. As independent safety experts and industry stakeholders, CSACNY has provided the council with common-sense recommendations that would achieve an effective set of new training requirements. The legislation should be amended to include the recommendations of these construction safety experts. Lives depend on it.

Jim Bifulco is president of the Construction Safety Advisory Committee of New York and a former city Department of Buildings B.E.S.T. Squad compliance officer.