New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

The Libertarian Republic The Construction Industry In New York Needs A Safety Overhaul by Maggie Novak

The Construction Industry In New York Needs A Safety Overhaul

Dangerous jobs usually come with higher wages due to the risks involved. Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, but many construction workers receive little more than minimum wage. Many construction projects receiving government subsidies pay workers minimum wage. That hardly seems fair considering the risk of personal injury. Still, people need jobs, so they’re willing to take that risk for less pay.

Council member Ben Kallos proposed a bill in early January 2019 calling for the requirement of prevailing wages for construction workers developing projects that receive government subsidies. The bill also calls for classroom and on-the-job training to prevent accidents and deaths that can be avoided through proper training.

“New York City has the right to make prevailing wage and apprenticeship training a condition to any financial incentive package it offers the private sector. You want the benefits, pay the wages,” said John O’Hare, managing director of the Building Contractors Association.

Critics, including the Real Estate Board of New York, claim higher labor costs would discourage building affordable housing. Kallos says low wages make the housing crisis worse by creating more demand for affordable housing. The construction workers sometimes can’t even afford the housing they’re building.

While the dangers of construction will remain inherent, proper training can mitigate the number of deaths and injuries. Reducing the risk of injury through training benefits the worker and the employer. Training isn’t just for employees – it’s for employers, too. When an employer fails to provide the proper equipment, an employer can be held liable for an accident, even when the employee is partially responsible. Intensive training is the only way to ensure preventable accidents don’t occur on a job site.

No matter how you look at it, construction is a dangerous job and workers deserve to earn a living wage regardless of the project they’re working on. Perhaps people don’t realize the extent of the danger. Not all workplace incident statistics tell the whole story.

Don’t believe every statistic you read

In New York City, construction is the most fatal occupation – a reality not accurately reflected in the data published by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). In 2017, the DOB reported 12 construction-related fatalities in NYC. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 there were 20 construction-related fatalities in NYC. The discrepancy is huge, and Mayor Bill de Blasio argues the discrepancy is caused by “jurisdictional differences” in how the two agencies track deaths. The DOB only tracks deaths associated with a violation of NYC construction code; OSHA tracks all deaths.

While the data being presented is debatable, there’s another concern NYC folks are experiencing. Construction-related injuries and accidents rose significantly in 2018, despite recently passed safety laws.

A program (in reality a tax exemption) called Affordable New York was signed into law in 2017 requiring companies to guarantee specific wages if they’re working on a project seeking tax exemptions. For example, projects that want tax benefits in Manhattan below 96th Street must pay workers $60 per hour. Certain areas in Brooklyn and Queens require a pay rate of $45 per hour. This law also requires developers to submit certified payroll data listing their workers to allow independent verification. However, based on results, it’s not enough.

It’s time for a safety overhaul in NYC

Wages are important, but perhaps the most important question is why aren’t construction workers receiving training? Private builders are often contracted to build affordable housing projects, and they want to save as much money as possible. They hire construction workers for the job, but they’re not always trained in their craft. Requiring 40 hours of training plus raising wage requirements is one way to decrease the safety risks associated with construction. Risks will never be eliminated, but proper training can significantly reduce those risks.

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