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Construction worker safety added to risk manager responsibilities

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The statistic is disturbing – 32 deaths in as many months in New York City related to construction worker injuries or falls from buildings. In response, the City Council last month unanimously passed one of the most stringent sets of worker safety training requirements in the nation, creating one more challenge for property owners, contractors and their workers to comply ahead of the March, 2018 implementation deadline.

The new law imposes stiff fines on property owners for failure to ensure that all workers on the job site have City-approved proof-of-training credentials and that supervisors maintain daily worker census logs available for inspection on demand.

One of the core risk issues related to worker safety is the practice by some employers to use temporary (unskilled) labor, often in the most hazardous jobs, making them more vulnerable to personal injury.

The clear message for all property owners and risk managers is to amend your contracts and leases to require all contractors to prove their workers have received the specified minimum level of worker safety training in compliance with local regulation. It is important to include similar language in tenant leases as tenant-initiated improvements can create the same worker hazards as general construction activities.

Staffing agencies that supply construction workers to employers must not be overlooked; they potentially can be the weak link in the chain. Contracts must provide that host employers and staffing agencies comply with both OSHA and local worker safety requirements.

The key is to align both the nature and degree of training to the specific task being performed. Just as the property owner will require higher levels of insurance coverage for those projects with greater risk, training must be appropriate for the tasks assigned individual workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor maintains an on-site consultative program to assist building permit holders to identify workplace hazards. Participation in the program is voluntary and may even qualify the property owner for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections. See https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult.html for more details.

The new safety law in New York City is neither the beginning nor end of further regulation. Other large U.S. cities have their own safety program requirements in place, and although perhaps not as challenging as New York, the rationale is sound.

Like it or not, the buck stops with the property owner, who continues to bear the risk of third-party liability in yet another difficult-to-manage environment.

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