During consecutive sessions at the week-long Build Safe / Live Safe Digital 2020 Conference, the NYC Buildings Department presented the collected and analyzed data it uses to interpret the top causes of incidents at construction sites and determine preventive measures
On Wednesday and Thursday, September 23 and 24, the DOB Digital 2020: Safety, Innovation and Sustainability Conference hosted consecutive sessions, Worker Safety Day 1 and Worker Safety Day 2, presented by Ausberto (“Ozzie”) Huertas, assistant commissioner for construction safety compliance and Patricia Fernandez, director of construction safety standards & guidance. Responding to questions online were Ronald Mener, director of construction safety compliance; Christian Gandolfo, assistant chief inspector, construction safety compliance; and Wilson Ortiz, Curriculum Developer. Buildings University.
Huertas explained that the department collects and analyzes data to interpret the top causes of incidents at construction sites and determine preventive measures.
Daily pre-shift meetings and toolbox talks are critical as they identify tasks to be performed then outline necessary safety measures.
Huertas listed key Do’s and Don’ts at all job sites such as signing the logbook daily and maintaining a constant site safety presence during any absence of the construction superintendent. A designated competent person, acting as an extension of the superintendent, must be a “worker with the ability to identify hazards and the authority to stop unsafe activities…[with] prompt corrective measures.”
“Falls are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities in NYC construction.”
Patricia Fernandez, director of construction safety standards & guidance
Near Misses, Incidences and Fatalities
Near Misses are avoidable incidents that did not result in injury but could have had catastrophic consequences. They are “warning signs,” said Fernandez, offering case studies of errors including failing to tether tools, neglecting to check load capacity, or using undersized shoring.
The 12 worker fatalities of 2019 resulted from falls (58%); “caught in-between” such as cave-ins or vehicle pinches (25%); and “struck by” such as a collapse trapping workers (17%).
Complacency, warned Huertas, can easily prove lethal as “It only takes one time for something to happen. …Don’t take a chance, not even for one second.”
Top Ten Violations
Fernandez listed the top 10 issued violations:
Failure to safeguard
Failure to provide pedestrian protection
Housekeeping failures (such as slips, trips and falls caused by the lack of a safe path of egress)
Failure to perform duties
Failure to install guardrails
Failure to follow approved drawings
Failure to obtain required training (site safety training and training on the proper use of tools and machinery)
Failure to file statements (such as an engineering report, not an incident report)
Filing false statements
Working without a permit
“Construction can be an inherently hazardous job, however the risks can be minimized and eliminated when workers are appropriately trained,” said Fernandez.
Cold-Formed Steel, Trenches & Excavations, Controlled Access Zones
Worker Safety Day 2 detailed specific potential areas of risk.
Cold-formed steel can be unstable and can compromise structural integrity if not fully braced and properly installed.
Trenches and excavations “can be the most hazardous if without precautions,” said Fernandez.
Solid, 8ft high construction fences and guardrails are visible reminders of an excavation. They can prevent falls and protect workers inside and outside the site. Heavy equipment needs to be kept away from the edges of trenches.
Trench safety tips include inspecting trenches at the start and keeping loads and spoils at least two feet from the edges.
Fernandez advised all that “Before chipping, digging or blasting, always notify the DOB one or two days in advance.” Call 811 before digging, get a ticket number, then call 212-393-2550 with the ticket number.
Controlled access zones must be visible, clearly marked, often roped off areas. Proper signage needs to be in place. Huertas noted the importance of being aware of boundaries.
Fall Protection and Leading Edge Hazards
Saying that “Falls are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities in NYC construction,” Fernandez noted that falls accounted for 38% of injuries and 58% of fatalities in 2019. She added that a person will fall two feet before becoming aware of the fall and “It takes one second to fall 16 feet, two seconds to fall 64 feet – the height of a four to five story building.”
Effective fall arrest systems include: anchorage; harness; lanyard or lifeline.
The hierarchy of controls is:
Eliminate the risk – remove the hazard
Substitute the risk involved
Engineering controls – isolate workers from hazards – i.e. guardrails
Administrative controls – change the way workers are performing tasks
PPE – if no other control method is possible
Fall protection systems include:
Safety net systems
Personal fall protection systems
Controlled Access Zones
Additional site safety information can be found on the DOB Site Safety page.
The first step of staying safe, said Huertas, is to “Be aware of your surroundings and know what is going on around you.”
Presentations, Videos and FAQs for the conference are now online:
Workers’ Rights were highlighted on both Worker Safety Days of the Build Safe / Live Safe Digital 2020: Safety, Innovation and Sustainability Conference, reinforcing department efforts to strengthen communication lines with workers.
At an August NYC Council meeting on Local Law 196, DOB Commissioner Melanie E. LaRocca spoke of workers saying, “I believe strongly [they] need somebody to be their voice.”
The rights are:
Right to a safe workplace.
Right to receive training information on hazards and how to prevent them.
Right to review records of work-related injuries and illnesses and to receive copies of test results.
Right to work in a safe environment – achieved through site safety training, having proper PPE, and knowing how to use tools and machinery correctly.
Right to report hazards and safety violations without fear of retaliation. Any worker who feels unsafe has the right to lodge an anonymous complaint with the department by calling 311 or reaching the DOB at 212-602-0431 (immigration status will not be asked).