Steelworkers on construction site

Could New Harness Laws Save Lives In New York City?

Steelworkers in the state of New York must wear a harness when they are working 25 feet above the ground or higher. If a worker is using high scaffolding, then they must be tied off every 10 feet to ensure their safety. The federal harness law, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is that some form of safety device must be worn when a worker is six feet or more above the ground. Since New York State has its own OSHA office, it can make its own safety rules. However, some companies are starting to think that the national regulations may not fully suffice.

Steelworkers on construction site

The Falls Without A Harness Are Deadly

From 2008 to 2015, the New York City Department of Buildings recorded 54 deaths from falls. Of those deaths, 78 percent occurred on non-union job sites. Why does the issue of union or non-union matter? It matters because of the way job sites are set up and the rules the city has in place.

For building projects of 10 stories or more, there must be a licensed safety inspector on site at all times. Most of those bigger jobs are union jobs, and the unions take safety very seriously. If the contractor does not hire an inspector, then the unions will step in and enforce the rules. The unions also have safety training and their own safety inspections on all of their jobs.

New York City construction jobs have grown increasingly non-union, and most of those jobs that are less than 10 stories are going to non-union shops. The smaller jobs do not require that a safety inspector is hired. Instead, they rely on an overworked and understaffed Department of Buildings to perform safety inspections. The results, as the numbers bear out, have been disastrous.

Some Contractors Have An Answer

The Gilbane Building Company is one of those contractors that does many of the 10-story or higher construction jobs in New York City. Not only does Gilbane hire the certified safety inspectors it is required to hire, it has its own safety rule that all workers doing work six feet or more above the ground must be wearing harnesses that are tied-off to an approved spot.

The extra attention to using harnesses is not something new that Gilbane created. Lendlease is another large contractor that works in New York City and utilizes a six-foot harness rule as well. Gilbane recently made a public statement that it thinks that New York City should adopt the federal regulation of wearing harnesses at six feet and make it mandatory for all union and non-union contractors working jobs of every size. The executives at Lendlease, and the 54 families who lost loved ones since 2008 in construction falls would agree.

Would The New Harness Rule Matter?

Gilbane claims that it has recorded no injuries or deaths from falls since 2011, and it even goes further and claims that 20 worker lives have been saved since 2011 because of the six-foot harness rule. That means that Gilbane’s efforts prevented the number of construction deaths from falls in New York City from eclipsing 70 since 2011.

The construction harness has been a focal point of construction safety for a very long time. In the warmer weather, many workers attempt to get away with not wearing harnesses because they can be cumbersome and can cause heat stroke. But safety administrators and safety-conscious construction executives maintain that a policy of proper hydration will allow workers to correctly utilize harnesses in the summer, and help to save lives.

Putting The New Rule Into ConsiderationHarnassed man

The 54 construction deaths from falls from 2008 to 2015 is split evenly between buildings that are 10-stories in height and buildings that are less than 10 stories. But the fact that 78 percent of the deaths came on non-union sites indicates that something needs to be done.

If Gilbane Construction on its own saved 20 lives by making harnesses mandatory at six feet or higher in just a five-year period, then it is worth considering how many lives could be saved if construction harnesses at six feet were the law. Even with a lack of necessary safety inspectors, it is worth considering that if the six-foot law had been implemented in 2007, then there is a good chance that 54 families in the New York City area would not be mourning a lost loved one today.

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