1 of 4 workplace deaths in New York are on a construction site
By: Zachary Phillips• Published Feb. 17, 2022
Construction work in New York — city and statewide — remains the most deadly profession in the country. A total of 41 laborers died on the job in New York state in 2020, a decrease from 2019. However, fewer workers climbed scaffolding and pounded nails during the pandemic, so the rate of deaths still rose.
The fatality rate rose to 11.1 deaths per 100,000 workers that year, up from 10.2 the year before.
Workplace deaths in construction accounted for 24% of fatalities on the job in New York, compared to 21% nationwide, according to a labor group's analysis of data from the New York Department of Buildings, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and OSHA.
The data analysis comes from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), an independent labor group with membership of workers, unions, activists and health and safety professionals.
"New York should be a national leader in worker safety, but the data reveal that we continue to lead the nation in construction worker fatalities, despite COVID-19 shutdowns," Charlene Obernauer, NYCOSH Executive Director, said in a statement.
Other findings from the report include:
In 2020, OSHA conducted the fewest inspections in the agency's history, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, OSHA fines for fatalities increased for the fifth consecutive year.
Latino construction workers remain disproportionately likely to die on the job, accounting for 18% of fatalities, but 10% of the population.
Almost 80% of worker deaths were on non-union jobsites.
"The rate of construction fatalities in New York is unacceptable," Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said in a statement shared with Construction Dive. "I urge lawmakers to continue to defend the state's scaffold safety law, increase oversight and enact stiffer penalties against bad actors."
NYCOSH called on lawmakers to expand regulations to hold "negligent contractors" liable for endangering workers.
One regulation that is unique to New York, the Scaffold Law, places full liability on owners and contractors if an employee falls and doesn't have the prescribed protective equipment.
However, employer groups fervently oppose the law. Contractors and industry groups have lobbied politicians for its repeal, saying that it greatly increases liability costs on projects.
In April 2021, contractor groups joined the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials in asking Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to exempt the $11.6 billion Hudson River Tunnel Project from the Scaffold LAw. The liability costs, the opponents said, could add $180 million and $300 million to the project's bottom line.
But NYCOSH chief Obernauer defended the Scaffold Law, noting the fines for construction worker deaths are too low. Additionally, construction firms are only liable when they fail to provide workers with the proper equipment.
"The Scaffold Law provides a disincentive to disregard safety protections and cut corners, creating criminally unsafe job sites," Obernauer said.
Article top image credit: David Dee Delgado/Stringer via Getty Images
Contractors prepare for enforcement of New York City vaccine mandate
As requirements for private firms ramp up, an official told Construction Dive that the city will focus on educating employers rather than fining them.
By: Sebastian Obando• Published Feb. 10, 2022
New York City's ban on unvaccinated employees has left construction pros doing business there questioning how to comply with the rule and who will enforce it.
Since December, workers have been required to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Starting Thursday, workers, including subcontractors, must show proof they have received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to continue coming to work, if their first shot was not the single-dose Johnson & Johnson. Proof of a booster shot is not required.
"We're still at a point where there's some degree of compliance," said Mark Kluger, an attorney and founding partner at Kluger Healey, a management-side employment law firm that represents construction companies. "But I wouldn't hazard to guess that there's 100% degree of compliance at this point."
But while New York City employers in general are working to comply with the mandate, it's easier to enforce it in a 9-to-5 office setting where the same employees report to work each day than in-the-field environments like construction, he said.
"The construction industry is in a slightly different situation," Kluger said. "You've got a prime contractor on the jobsite, there are subs coming and going at various stages of a project, and being able to manage who's vaccinated and who's not is a little more challenging."
In addition, the national vaccination rate for workers in construction remains below 60%, compared to 84% for all other occupations, according to data tracked by CPWR, a nonprofit construction safety research firm.
But that withdrawal has no effect on New York's mandate. Kluger said Feb. 10 will be the "final deadline before there'll be any efforts to enforce."
Enacted by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in December, the New York City mandate is aimed at private businesses of all sizes. It will affect roughly 184,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of employees. It will be enforced by New York City inspectors from various agencies starting this week, with fines beginning at $1,000.
According to a statement from New York City Hall shared with Construction Dive, the focus of the mandate is compliance. That means the city will help businesses and stakeholders to implement the mandate and engage with employers to get workers vaccinated instead of going straight to fines, according to a City Hall spokesperson.
Which agencies will enforce the mandate for construction firms is still unclear. The New York City Department of Buildings told Construction Dive it will not be handling the enforcement of vaccine requirements for private employers.
The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC), an organization that represents more than 100,000 trades workers across New York City, has been working with its members to comply with the new rule.
"The implementation of new safety protocols, including vaccine mandates, are bound to create some uncertainty in the industry," said Gary LaBarbera, BCTC's president. "We've been helping our members navigate all health and safety measures that help secure worksites from the spread of the virus."
Benjamin Mensah, chairperson at B.A.K. Construction, a Bronx, New York City-based general contracting company, touched on the importance of minimizing exposure for workers and protecting families in the community.
He said the mandates have both positively affected the construction industry and provided "safety measures for construction workers to work diligently while on the worksite."
The general contracting company encourages its employees and vendors to get vaccinated, provides testing kits if symptoms emerge on site and supports time off if a worker does test positive, said Mensah.
New York City snapshot
Meanwhile, Manhattan construction activity continues on an upward trend despite a decrease in new projects due to COVID-19, according to a recent New York Building Congress report. The borough’s construction starts are valued at $7 billion, a $1 billion increase since 2020.
The number of COVID-19 cases reported in the city since the omicron surge began late last year decreased over 80% since a peak in early January, according to New York City Mayor Eric Adams. He said that more than 75% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.
"What's really important to keep an eye on is the degree to which the city will try to enforce this," said Kluger. "It's a very heavy manpower-driven law that will require a lot of boots on the ground for the city to get any traction."
Article top image credit: Spencer Platt via Getty Images
Where the similarities matter most, however, are not in what these companies have achieved, but how they've achieved it. An exceptional safety record doesn't happen by accident. In almost all cases, it's the result of strategic planning, a commitment to safety, and the right habits—a combination of actions and attitudes adopted by people up, down, and across the organization.
In other words, wherever there are few or no incidents, there's a strong safety culture. And like sustainable ecosystems or winning sports teams, all safety cultures share a few basic elements:
1. Dedication to a goal to improve employee health and safety
Safe companies put their EHS initiatives in writing. They frequently start by setting a goal of zero workplace injuries. That goal may sound unrealistic, and merely establishing it doesn't change anything, but it does provide a shape, a direction, and a set of key performance indicators for the hard work ahead. Safe companies aren't deterred by the effort it may take to reduce incidents. And they know the only way to get there is to define what "there" looks like.
2. Adherence to a safety policy within the company and its supply chain
Safe companies create EHS policies and stick to them. If a zero-injury goal is the "why," policies are the "how." Without them in place, there's no way to consistently ensure and measure proper workplace behaviors. From injury prevention to accident reporting, from equipment checks to hazard communication, effective policies cover as many departments, job functions, scenarios, and variables as possible—and they're followed by workers at every stage in the supply chain.
3. Support for the employee health and safety team
Safe companies know that words on paper alone don't change behaviors. That's why they frequently build EHS teams and designate specific roles within those teams. Team members may include one or more safety managers, supervisors, officers, coordinators, advisors, and/or regulatory liaisons, as well as outside legal and risk management consultants. Whatever the team looks like—however small or large—it's only effective if it remains active and garners support from all levels of the organization.
4. Formalized health and safety training for executives or key employees
Safe companies educate and empower their key personnel to become workforce safety leaders. That means everyone engages in the in-depth, ongoing EHS training they need to do their jobs (and make sure others do theirs) properly. In a strong safety culture, workers undergo training in overall EHS policies and procedures as well as any rules specific to their jobs, sites, and equipment. And when regulations, standards, and technologies change, the company institutes new training to keep workers up to date.
5. Use of a health and safety management system
Finally, safe companies stand out for what they don't do. They don't leave EHS management up to a single individual. They don't try to coordinate everything with binders and spreadsheets. Instead, they use technology to ensure compliance, control risk, and monitor organizational performance. By harnessing a health and safety management system, any organization can minimize busywork, close gaps, eliminate uncertainty, and ultimately stimulate better EHS outcomes. Think of it as the backbone of an effective safety culture.
As we alluded to earlier, it can take a lot of work to nurture a safety culture and keep it alive. You don't have to change everything at once. Instead, focus on adopting just a few essential habits: setting safety goals, adhering to policies, supporting your safety team, training your key employees, and using a system to manage it all.
Why not start today?
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The top OSHA violations of Q4 2021
This past quarter saw repeat offenders and fines that eclipsed $400,000, and incidents that included a worker electrocution and fall in West Virginia.
By: Matthew Thibault• Published Feb. 1, 2022
OSHA has released another round of citations against companies that violate the agency's safety protocols, resulting in injuries and fatalities to workers. This latest roundup of offenses includes willful violations of fall protection standards, standards involving aerial lifts and more. Read on to see the largest violations by contractors this past quarter.
The company had been fined $1.2 million six months ago for the same violations, and it was fined nearly $375,000 about one year from the November fines, according to L&I. The company has been and is currently on the state DOL's Severe Violators Enforcement Program, which subjects the firm to greater scrutiny and more inspections. Allways Roofing has had at least seven serious injuries, including five falls from heights and two eye injuries from nail guns, according to the release.
The company is currently contesting the most recent round of fines.
Queens, New York-based firm Richmond Construction was fined $374,603 on Nov. 12 for two willful, six serious and one repeat violations for offenses including failure to provide fall protection and failure to have proper hearing protection.
The investigation stemmed from an jobsite fatality last May where an employee of the company fell 60 feet and died as a result of the injuries during the demolition of a building in Brooklyn.
An OSHA investigation found that the company failed to provide and require the use of all required safeguards related to fall protection, according to an OSHA press release. Investigators also determined that the company failed to train its workers to recognize and avoid fall hazards
Richmond Construction is currently contesting the fines.
Wilson Roofing & Construction
Ferndale, Washington-based contractor Wilson Roofing & Construction was fined $247,000 for one serious, two willful, two repeat and one other violation on Dec. 2. The company was observed to have a lack of fall protection and other safety violations while employees were roofing a home in Ferndale.
The company is also a repeat offender known to the Washington L&I. In the last three years, the agency has inspected Wilson Roofing & Construction twice following employee falls from heights that resulted in hospitalizations, according to the release. In March 2019, the company was cited and fined $42,000 for not ensuring fall protection was being used by its roofers. Wilson Roofing & Construction is now in the Severe Violators Enforcement Program.
Wilson Roofing & Construction is currently contesting the fines.
Fines: $214,900 ($85,960 current)
Status: Informal settlement
Millersburg, Ohio-based Charm Builders was fined $214,900 for three serious, one willful and three repeat violations stemming from an incident where a worker was electrocuted and paralyzed following a fall from a jobsite in Wheeling, West Virginia.
According to the OSHA investigation, a roofing worker suffered electrical burns after making contact with an overhead power line while atop a Wheeling commercial building, and then fell about 11 feet to the ground, the Wheeling Intelligencer reported. The impact caused spinal injuries that left the worker paralyzed from the waist down.
The company has informally settled with OSHA, and the fines have currently been reduced from their initial amounts to $85,960.
Mast's Top Choice Roofing and Top Choice Roofing Service
Fines: $167,934 each
Status: Both companies contested
Jefferson, Ohio-based Mast's Top Choice Roofing and Hadley, Pennsylvania-based Top Choice Roofing Service have each been fined $167,934 following the June death of a 19-year-old worker jointly employed by both companies on a jobsite in Neville Island, Pennsylvania. Each company was cited for one serious and two willful violations.
OSHA determined Top Choice Roofing Service and Mast's Top Choice Roofing Service ignored federal requirements to use fall protection systems around skylights and on a low-sloped roof, according to an OSHA press release. The companies also allowed the use of an aerial lift without fall protection.
Both companies are currently contesting their respective fines.
Marc Jones Construction
Mandeville, Louisiana-based contractor Marc Jones Construction, LLC was fined $160,913 on Nov. 10 for two serious and one repeat violations on a Naples, Florida jobsite, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
OSHA cited the company, operating as Sunpro Solar, for a repeat violation after inspectors found workers exposed to falls, according to a Department of Labor press release. In addition, the agency cited the company for allowing workers to climb up and down extension ladders while carrying loads that could have caused them to fall, and failing to provide fall protection training to employees.
Marc Jones Construction is a repeat offender. OSHA twice cited the Louisiana-based company for similar violations on Texas jobsites, in San Antonio in January 2021 and in El Paso in April 2020, according to the release.
Marc Jones Construction is contesting the current citations.
Omicron stresses already understaffed jobsites as workers call in sick
Construction, already suffering from a labor shortage, is getting hammered by staffing issues brought on by the highly contagious COVID-19 variant.
By: Matthew Thibault• Published Feb. 1, 2022
The highly infectious omicron variant of the coronavirus, currently the most dominant variant in the United States, has hit the country like a tidal wave, and businesses are scrambling to keep their heads above water.
From late December to mid-January, according to Washington Post analysis of Census Household Pulse Survey data for that timeframe, approximately 8.8 million workers reported missing work either because they were sick with the coronavirus or caring for someone else who was ill.
This figure is triple the number from early December, and well over last January's peak of 6.6 million, according to Washington Post reporting, and while the first omicron variant's wave of infection is appearing to slow down in early hit areas, businesses across the country are still feeling the strain just as a new omicron variant is rearing its head.
Construction firms have not been immune to the surge, and many contractors report dealing with an ever-shrinking pool of workers as the virus surges through their communities.
"It just seems like it's spreading so much more rapidly than it has ever before, and even with the people that are really careful," said Tim Spiegelglass, the fourth-generation co-owner of Spiegelglass Construction Company, a small general contractor based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Problems with labor shortages aren't new to the construction field as the industry struggles to recruit young workers and retain older, experienced workers who have the skills and training necessary to run an effective jobsite. But the pandemic, and the omicron wave in particular, is striking a different tone for employers.
Contractors say they are using a variety of tactics to keep jobsites open and running, from quickly bringing in subs to recruiting managers and executives to fill in. Technology is also playing a role for contractors who know how to utilize it effectively.
Spiegelglass told Construction Dive that one of his company's electrical subcontracting firms had, at one point, 75% of their office test positive. The rest of the workers in the office had to quarantine, so he didn't have electrical workers on site for a week.
David Brown, a project executive at CNY Group, a New York City-based contractor, said that the omicron wave was impacting his company's operations the most in their quick-build retail projects, which Brown said typically can take 14 to 16 weeks and require a large volume of workers all at once.
Brown said that across the company's current projects, he is generally seeing a 10% to 15% loss of workers on any given day.
"I happily say that we haven't yet experienced a significant schedule impact that has really created a major challenge for us to deal with, with our clients and owners. But it has impacted things throughout the course of the project," Brown said.
The big scramble
Because of the large numbers of sick workers, construction pros are having to think fast and fill slots as needed, even by executives and other upper-level managers.
Bob Zirkel, Vice President at New York City-based general contractor EW Howell Construction Group, has had to cover projects where supervisors are either stretched through their hours and the company can't schedule them to fill the site.
The problems are exacerbated for smaller contractors like Spiegelglass, who said that his firm doesn't have people "waiting on shelves" to be pulled in. Instead, they just proceed as planned, unless something is preventing them from doing so.
"People think that [substitutes] are just waiting for somebody to call you and get ready to go. And, you know, that's not quite how it works. That just costs more money if you're waiting around," Spiegelglass said.
Spiegelglass said his company has remained adaptable, with supervisors bouncing around different jobsites and project managers staying in the field longer than they normally would, making sure that things are progressing smoothly.
“It just seems like it's spreading so much more rapidly than it has ever before, and even with the people that are really careful."
CEO, Spiegelglass Construction Company
CNY Group's Brown also praised the quick-thinking work of the company's project managers and supervisors, adding that they've been able to carry on work as a result, providing short-term relief when things start to get out of hand and short staffed on the jobsite.
"It's putting to test our project managers and our superintendents, and their ability to really plan ahead and re-sequence work. That's really where we've been finding the bits of success in dealing with these work shortages," Brown said.
Racing for fixes
As part of a longer-term solution, Kevin Ponder, construction director of Tacoma, Washington-based staffing firm PeopleReady Skilled Trades, said busy construction managers can benefit from hosting short training sessions to quickly bring new recruits onto jobsites.
These boot camp-style sessions, which are intended to be held over 2-4 months and rapidly get an either new or replacement tradesperson up to speed on a jobsite, are construction managers' best bets to catch up on work or get work done overall.
Jacob Binke, an executive recruiter at The Birmingham Group, a Berkley, Michigan-based construction recruiting firm, said that technology can help small to mid-sized contractors adapt to a shrinking workforce.
"You don't have to necessarily send your guys out into the site, you can just see everything with a drone, make sure it's all good. The less guys that are on site, the less safety issues you'll have," Binke said.
Ultimately, the current problem with sick workers stems from a lack of available employees even in pre-pandemic times. Ponder said that in order to avoid this, the perception of tradeswork needs to change.
"It comes back to creating a culture that allows people to see training pathways for advancement, what their career could look like, how it impacts [them] socially, how it impacts their community," Ponder said.
Getting out ahead
From his experience, Brown says to plan for the worst, and hope for the best when it comes to scheduling and other issues, and offered forethought as a good way to try to avoid issues later on down the road.
“It's putting to test our project managers and our superintendents, and their ability to really plan ahead and re-sequence work.”
Project Executive, CNY Group
"For the time being you have to plan [work shortages] into your schedules, you have to plan that into the deliverables. I feel like people are really starting to understand that a little bit better now and are more receptive to adding a little bit of time at the front end of a project to address it and to manage it," Brown said.
Spiegelglass said that he wants his employees to realize that taking care of themselves comes first.
"Just like anything else in the world right now, everybody needs to be patient and know that our health is more important than getting the job done on time," he said.
Article top image credit: Joe Raedle via Getty Images
Skanska deploys simple tool to flag mental health resources
By: Zachary Phillips• Published Jan. 27, 2022
Skanska UK has implemented a simple solution that it claims will help protect one of its most important assets: its workers. Specifically, the new practice involves helping employees address mental health concerns.
Workers can speak with specially trained team members who have undertaken a mental health training course. These trained employees wear a green circular sticker that reads "Mental Health First Aider" on their hard hat, indicating to those on the jobsite that they are available to talk or to address an issue related to mental wellbeing.
The initiative was rolled out recently on a roughly $346 million highway improvement project in the United Kingdom. Eight qualified workers have displayed their hardhat stickers since Jan. 17, instantly flagging them to the 100 workers onsite as a resource. Skanska UK said that 55% of its employees have been trained in the Mental Health Aware course or as a first aider.
Skanska has also taken up mental health efforts in the U.S. For instance, last year the Sweden-based contractor partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide to host virtual and in-person trainings, Paul Haining, senior vice president and head of EHS shared services at Skanska USA, told Construction Dive.
"One of the elements that we have integrated into all our jobsites and offices is a daily 'stretch and flex' huddle to start the day," Haining said. "This gives us a chance [to] combine exercises to physically limber up with daily check-ins on how people are doing."
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among construction workers in the U.S. is more than three times the national average, with 49.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 workers. Additionally, for every person that dies by suicide there are another 25 suicide attempts.
Jobsites are also largely populated by men, who are twice as likely to die by suicide as women.
In addition to being at high risk of suicide, construction workers can face issues with general health and morale, which can impact other aspects of the jobsite. Contractor mental health initiatives seek to address issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction and anger.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue of contractor mental health, causing the CDC to update a checklist for construction employers to consider the mental health and wellbeing of their workers. The organization highlighted how the pandemic could affect work, making it vital for leaders to communicate expectations, anticipate behavior changes and ensure there is a system in place to identify issues and provide support.
Correction: This story has been updated to properly display Paul Haining's title.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Skanska UK
ASCE releases world's first tornado safety building standard
The standard is the first of its kind in the world. It offers guidance designed to protect infrastructure from tornadoes ranking from 0 to 2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which translates to winds ranging from 40 mph at the bottom of EF0 to 157 mph at the top of EF2. In the U.S., approximately 80% of tornadoes are EF0 to EF1 strength.
The standards aren't meant for residential construction, but rather for critical infrastructure such as hospitals and fire stations which are needed immediately after a disaster, said Don Scott, the chair of the ASCE-7 Wind Load subcommittee. Additionally, storms ranked EF-3 or higher also don't fall under the guidelines, due to the infancy of the research. Scott said that once enough research is complete, more severe storms can also be accounted for.
Scott told Construction Dive that the idea came out of cooperation between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the ASCE following the Joplin tornado disaster in 2011, which killed 161 people along a 6-mile path and caused almost $3 billion in damages to the city of Joplin in southwest Missouri.
Scott was adamant that the decision to make the standard was not driven by climate change concerns, but rather the loss of life from tornado outbreaks. However, Scott told Construction Dive that the ASCE would be working with climate scientists in the future to determine if any construction standards should be changed to account for increasingly extreme weather.
"These are first in the world standards for tornado design, and the research will continue and be able to expand them and clarify them in the future," Scott said.
A range of recommendations
Some of the changes the new standard requires include making windows impact-resistant, as seen in buildings in areas with hurricanes. Scott also emphasized that establishing a continuous load path through the building to counteract any pressure that the tornado inflicts vertically on a structure is an incredibly important part of the standard.
Another recommendation is using steel clips or straps instead of toenail trusses on buildings. Those clips will be attached to studs in the walls, which will in turn be anchored into the foundation of the building, providing support to deal with strong winds and pressure that tornadoes create.
"Tornadoes previously were beyond the probabilities we normally design for," said J.G. Soules, the vice chair of the ASCE 7-22 committee in the release. "But more study was done, and we found that tornadoes were undercounted to the point where they should now be considered. We're not designing tornado shelters with ASCE 7; we're simply designing for somewhat higher wind loads in certain regions of the country. But it is important to do."
Next year, the standard will be up for consideration to be entered into Chapter 16 of the 2024 International Building Code. States and municipalities in tornado-prone areas can add it to their own building codes and decide what provisions they'll use from the standard in their own requirements.
Article top image credit: Brett Carlsen via Getty Images
Construction safety in 2021
Hazards can arise on any jobsite, and companies must work to ensure that they are prepared for a range of threats. Ensuring worker safety has become both a top priority and a top challenge for construction site managers amid the pandemic, and new measures must be taken for precaution.
included in this trendline
The largest OSHA fines of Q2 2021
Skanska regional office designed for COVID-19 safety
1,499 stop work orders issued in NYC construction sweep
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.