Building-site safety is everyone's business

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Recent tragic accidents on construction sites have grabbed headlines and made the city take notice, but we need to focus on what to do once those headlines fade. For those of us in the construction industry, our top priority has to be preventing even more tragedies from happening. There is no margin for error here—lives are literally on the line—so at a City Council hearing this month, we proposed a “zero-tolerance initiative” to demonstrate just how serious we are when it comes to safety.

The Building Trades Employers’ Association represents 27 contractor associations and 2,000 union construction managers, general contractors and specialty trades contractors doing business in the city. Every day, our builders are committed to facilitating the safest work environments possible, but there are always going to be bad actors. That’s why we want the City Council to require certain elements on every job site going forward:

  • Drug and alcohol testing on job sites.
  • Ten-hour OSHA training cards. Sometimes the smallest measures make the biggest difference. When every worker knows what to do on a job site, everyone is safer.
  • Installation of a cocoon system for concrete projects, essentially enclosing high-rise construction sites for any job over 10 stories. These cocoons will provide additional protection to the public from debris or material that may fall from high buildings. Workers would benefit from these protections as well.
  • Greater crane-operator accountability through signed inspection verification forms.

I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for more than 200 new building inspectors. The council should work with him to increase funding for the Department of Buildings and provide more inspectors for job sites.

The cranes over the city’s skyline make it obvious that we are in a building boom. There has been a 30% increase in building permits issued or renewed in the past five years, while the number of DOB employees has dropped by 20%. To adequately enforce safety, the agency needs money to hire staff—and the council should make that happen.

It is also time that the DOB gets resources to support its Major Projects Initiative, which has been marginalized by a lack of funding. The program, which brings senior DOB managers and inspectors together with developers, contractors and construction managers in preconstruction phases, was tremendously successful in reducing accidents. There is no reason for that program to be waning. It should be growing.

Safety is ultimately about leadership. Our personnel policies compel our supervisors to remove any worker from a site where he or she causes an accident that endangers workers or the public. Every contractor in the city, union-affiliated or not, should take that position.

These steps sound simple, but they’re not standard across construction sites. Each day that goes by without enacting these changes means we are taking unnecessary risk. The stakes are too high to stand idly by.

Lou Coletti is president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.


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