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Each year, New York City invests about $2 billion to encourage private development in the form of tax incentives and grants. But, according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Popular Democracy, the city does not require as a prerequisite for those grants progressive development practices that ensure worker safety and health.
Under programs offered by the New York Economic Development Corporation, the city in 2013 handed out millions in lucrative tax incentive financing to corporate entities at 596 locations. Thousands more of these projects are ongoing in New York City through other funding mechanisms known as public benefit corporations.
During 2011 and 2012, 36 construction workers in New York City lost their lives on the job. Most of these deaths occurred on construction projects where no mandatory safety and health training was required.
These horrific stories of construction worker fatality could all change with the de Blasio administration and the reintroduction of the Safe Jobs Act. If the Safe Jobs Act is approved by the New York City Council and signed into law, it will mandate safety and health training for all tax-incentivized development projects.
City residents should be outraged that their tax dollars are paying for the unsafe practices of unsavory developers and lining the pockets of construction contractors with a known record of safety and health violations.
An example of these egregious acts is the Brooklyn Bridge Park project, which is tax-incentivized. In 2012 a worker was struck in the face by a heavy metal end cap that dislodged during a water supply pressure test. At the same construction site, a pedestrian was struck by falling debris. During the past seven years, Brooklyn Bridge Park contractor Hudson Meridian has been cited seven times for failure to provide adequate guard rails to protect construction workers.
In rare and welcome show of bipartisanship, a bill inspired by Public Citizen’s 2012 report on the state of worker safety in the state of Maryland is headed to Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk to be signed.
The bill, HR 951, will establish a working group to make recommendations to Maryland’s General Assembly about the effects of requiring all state contractors to adhere to a variety of measures designed to keep workers safe.
If all goes according to plan, the new rules could be in place as early as 2015.
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Last week, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) heard testimony on modernizing and improving the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These hearings were convened because OSHA has proposed a rule change that will directly benefit workers in “high hazard” industries, where workers suffer the most injuries and illnesses.
The proposed rule amends current reporting requirements to require all workplaces with 250 or more employees to electronically send all of their injury and illness data to OSHA quarterly. The improved tracking system also would require workplaces with 20 or more employees, in certain industries with high injury and illness rates, to electronically send their annual summary data to OSHA once a year. Presently, employers submit such reports on paper, and there is a significant lag in processing the data.
OSHA’s proposal would improve workplace safety and health through the collection of useful, accessible, establishment-specific injury and illness data. At present, OSHA does not electronically receive an establishment’s injury and illness data log. This void forces the agency to rely on data that is more than a year old when attempting to respond to hazardous workplace conditions. This is the opposite of a speedy response to hazards.
But OSHA has been met with strong opposition to this proposed rule change. During recent public meetings at OSHA headquarters, corporate lobbyists and spokespersons from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced strong opposition to modernizing the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These corporate interests complained that businesses would be “named and shamed” in the media, by labor unions and occupational safety and health researchers for publishing injury and illness rates on the Internet.
Workers in the construction industry and other industrial occupations may be breathing a little easier in the very near future. Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule to mitigate occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust). Silica dust is a dangerous substance well-known for causing lung disease, lung cancer and silicosis. The proposed rule is long overdue and worker safety and health advocates are cheering at its arrival, though caution that there is more work to be done.
Silica dust is currently a major concern for construction workers and workers in other industries. Respirable silica dust particles cannot be seen with the human eye, and it only takes a small amount of airborne silica dust to create a major health hazard.
Silica dust is created by cutting, grinding and drilling materials such as asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. In other words, materials which can be found on almost every construction site across the United States.