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Construction safety bills at center of industry battle

This week, the Housing and Buildings Committee for the New York City Council oversaw 21 bills being introduced that deal with construction safety. These bills pit developers against unions and other builders.

If passed, these bills have increased penalties for some violations. They also specify that there will be site-safety plans for buildings over three stories. But the most controversial of all is the mandate for worker training programs.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in 2015 there were 17 worker fatalities in New York City. Last year, that number dipped to 14. Statistics from the Buildings Department listed 11 on-the-job fatalities and a civilian death for both years. The president of the Building and Construction Trades Council attributes these deaths mainly to inadequate training.

"Right now there is no training standard," he said.

A half-dozen of the proposed bills deal with cranes, such as phasing out older cranes from active use and adding additional restrictions when winds are gusting. Another measure forces the Buildings Department to track incidents resulting in hospitalizations or deaths.

The Real Estate Board of New York opposes apprenticeship requirements, claiming it's a mandate for union labor. However the board's president had positive things to say about numerous bills included in the package, stating they would implement the industry's best practices on job sites. The Real Estate Board of New York agreed to support some mandated safety training, like OSHA's 10-hour program.

A rally against apprenticeship requirements by disparate groups claims that the new rules could exclude minority residents of public housing from jobs in the construction industry.

Unions countered claims of being slow to integrate minorities into their ranks, citing the 62 percent of minorities as registered apprentices in NYC. This is a reversal of the percentage that was white two decades ago.

Regardless of the passage or defeat of the proposals, it's inevitable that accidents will still occur at times on inherently dangerous construction sites. When this occurs, those who get injured and the survivors of those who are killed, can file claims for compensation of their injuries and damages.

Source: Crain's, "Construction industry ready to battle as safety bills hit the council floor," Rosa Goldensohn, Jan. 31, 2017

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