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Construction safety needs to be done right

Construction safety is back in the headlines. A few weeks ago, the New York City Council heard a bill that extends the deadline by which construction workers would need to complete 30 hours of approved training by June 1, 2019 to continue working on projects of five stories or more. The hearing was followed by three tragic construction fatalities in the span of less than a week, emphasizing the overwhelming need for safety training.

To be clear, REBNY has always supported construction safety. In fact, our members’ best practices formed the basis of a few laws in the City Council’s Construction Safety Act of 2017. Daily tool box talks, worker safety orientations and installing netting and guardrail systems are just a few examples of these best-practices-turned-into-laws. However, REBNY has always voiced concerns about how Local Law 196, the Act’s centerpiece law that mandates a total of 40 hours’ safety training by September 1, 2020, would be implemented.

Even though Local Law 196’s training requirements are phased-in over three years with the June 1, 2019 deadline immediately upon us, our primary concern was and remains whether there is enough training capacity to accommodate the estimated 180,000 construction workers across the city. And moreover, we asked how do day laborers, MWBEs and other unaffiliated construction workers pay for the mandatory training without digging into their own pockets?

At a City Council hearing in late March, top officials from the Department of Buildings testified that many workers have still not gone through the mandatory training and seem to be “procrastinating.” The Department fears that capacity will be further constrained when workers cram to get the training in the final weeks leading up June 1. On the other hand, trainers say their sessions are full. Meanwhile, although the de Blasio Administration allocated over $60 million to institute free training for day-laborers, MWBEs and other unaffiliated workers at the City’s Workforce1 Centers, the course offerings have been slow to launch and only 1,800 workers have been trained since last July.

Given these challenges, there is no doubt that the June 1 deadline needs to be pushed into the future. But the question is how far? The Council bill sets a new deadline to December 1, 2019 but there is no guarantee that workers will be able meet that deadline without the City fully launching its training program and ensuring that training capacity is expanded. Otherwise, we will back in the same position six months later.

It might be too late to entirely re-work Local Law 196. But, in model construction safety legislation that REBNY submitted to the City Council in 2017, training is phased-in over a longer, five-period and each phase focused on a specific training topic that directly correlates to the primary causes of worker injuries and fatalities, ensuring uniformity and consistency across training providers. We hope that the Council will take these continuing concerns into consideration as they re-think how construction safety needs to be implemented.

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