- A new law in New York expands the definition of workers and puts more responsibility on contractors to report fatalities to a state registry of on-the-job construction deaths, including demographic data about victims.
- New York Senate Bill S1302, which was signed into law Feb. 16, amends previous language about workers to include “direct employees, contracted employees, subcontracted employees, independent contractors, temporary or contingency workers, apprentices, interns, volunteers” and other individuals. It also expands use of the term “contractor” to apply to a direct employer, contractor or subcontractor.
- Sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Jessica Ramos, text submitted with the bill describes how the definition of a workplace fatality differed among New York's 58 county coroners and medical examiners, and stated its intent is to capture all on-the-job deaths in construction, which accounted for one in five private sector workplace fatalities in 2018. “New York doesn't keep a centralized record of worker deaths,” Ramos tweeted last year. “My Workplace Fatalities Registry Bill will fix that & help identify dangerous working conditions so NY can do better.”
The legislation requires all coroners and medical examiners to report construction industry workplace deaths within 72 hours to New York State’s Department of Labor, which is tasked with maintaining the registry.
Once that information is cataloged, DOL is then charged with requesting further information from contractors about the incident and death, including the age, ethnicity, nationality, immigration and union status, and the craft or trade of the worker. DOL may also request whether criminal or civil charges have been filed against the contractor in the worker’s death.
Contractors have 90 days to respond, or face penalties ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 per occurrence.
“It is imperative for accurate data to be collected regarding all incidents under which an individual performing construction work suffers a work-related fatal injury in the workplace,” read text submitted with the legislation. “This bill is necessary to ensure that there is a centralized registry in New York State that contains the circumstances of workplace deaths in the construction industry, accompanied by demographic data on the victims, so that we may continue to work towards improving the safety and health of those on construction jobs.”
Ramos's office didn't respond to requests from Construction Dive for more information about the bill.
According to construction attorney Michael Metz-Topodas, a partner with Cohen Seglias, the intent of the new legislation, which seems to be the first of its kind for a state, is to provide insight into accidents to help prevent them in the future.
“With centralized information, the Department of Labor can more easily and readily detect trends and patterns and direct regulation and enforcement accordingly to promote safety,” Metz-Topodas said in an email to Construction Dive.
But the real impact may come from making information about such deaths publicly available in a centralized database for all to see, he said.
“With information publicly available, workers and other industry stakeholders can better gauge a contractor’s safety performance,” Metz-Topodas said. “Reputational concerns about publicly available safety information can lead to increased adherence to safety regulations, sometimes called ‘compliance by shame.’"
The new law also coincides with a renewed push for construction safety in New York City. The Department of Buildings recently announced a safety blitz and inspection sweeps at more than 1,100 buildings in the city with façade repair work permits, to help prevent scaffolding-related injuries and deaths, following a fatality last summer.