Construction Safety Act Underscores Need for Greater Collaboration

By Robert Proffitt, R.A.

The Construction Safety Act introduced by the New York City Council last January offers additional examples of the growing disconnect between government institutions and the people they serve. While the concepts behind the 21-bill package are great, specific recommendations often don’t jibe with industry reality.

Call for Apprenticeships

One of controversial aspect of the legislation concerns the requirement for apprenticeship training. Beyond arguments that such a program could be cost-prohibitive for non-union workers and jobs, opponents question whether it would do enough to improve job site safety. Many of the multi-year programs focus on craft, not safety. In addition, the requirement could further deplete an already-limited workforce.

As an alternative, some industry representatives advocate requiring safety-specific training, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 10-hour program (OSHA 10), for all construction projects. By requiring OSHA 10 at all sites, instead of exempting projects less than 10 stories, such a mandate would rely on established safety standards and extend safety-specific training to all construction workers. Apprenticeships, by contrast, would likely exclude workers with a certain amount of professional experience.

Increased Supervision

The other hot topic involves expanding site safety plan and construction superintendent requirements to all buildings more than four stories in height. While these smaller sites are more likely to have unsafe work conditions, the proposed solution will lead to significant construction delays—with developers footing the bill. The anticipated increase in site safety plan filings would not only tax the staff at the Department of Buildings (DOB), but also exacerbate the current shortage of licensed site safety personnel.

Similar to the increased training requirement, the premise is sound. However, the city’s construction industry is still adjusting to the construction superintendent rules enacted in May 2016. Expanding this mandate to smaller sites is premature, if not logistically impossible without severely disrupting construction projects across the city.

More Cooperation, Please

We commend the underlying motivation behind the Construction Safety Act: increase site safety and avoid job-related injuries and fatalities. Unfortunately, the proposed solutions do not reflect job site reality. City agencies and legislators need to collaborate with industry professionals, including designers, owners, and consultants.

For instance, requiring additional training is one thing, but such a change needs to be carefully considered for successful implementation. What kind of training is required? How much training? From whom? What kind of qualifications do instructors need? Are training programs and facilities currently available? When will the changes go into effect? Only by asking and answering critical questions can we develop actionable, practical solutions to these complex challenges, and this process demands collaboration between legislators and the involved parties.

Kudos to the City Council for taking on the critical issue of construction safety. We hope this proposed legislation can open the door to meaningful dialogue and viable solutions.