Earlier this month, New York City construction industry professionals debated the future of safety on the job site at the Commercial Observer’s third annual Construction Safety Forum. They reviewed what happened during coronavirus and what is expected to happen now.
Starting the event with a talk about COVID-19, Melanie La Roca, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Buildings, said that their safety measures had a measurable impact on deaths and infections. In particular, she cited legislation that required holding general contractors accountable for safety violations and requiring safety professionals to be on site.
Not everyone on the panel agreed with the legislation, including Tomasz P. Dering, corporate safety director at Plaza Construction. He said subcontractors should own responsibility for safety management and enforcement. He questioned the demand for increased safety personnel during a workforce shortage.
Sean Scuderi, an attorney at Tarter Krinsky, and Drogin, said significant changes to prevent future outbreaks needed to happen. Proof of vaccination should be required, at least for work inside buildings.
“What is unique about this is if a person is not wearing a hardhat, they probably will get an injury [and] no one else around them [will],” Dering said. “In this case, if someone refuses to wear a respirator or a mask, they’re going to be exposing other people. [Mask policies] need to be zero tolerance.”
According to Louis Cendagorta, chief inspector of the NYC Fire Department said the legislation needs to provide support, not penalties, for construction.
“We really didn’t look at [ourselves] as an enforcement agency,” Cendagorta said. “We didn’t want to hurt anybody because we knew that, when the city shut down, to start it up again you don’t want to throw a lot of regulations on people… and hurt the industry when you’re trying to build it back.”
He said that the route to take is to decrease inspections if the buildings didn’t have a recent infraction.
“The way to get back on our feet is through making it easier for builders to build,” he said.
With varying opinions on how to proceed with rebuilding New York City’s construction industry, one thing remained common on the panel: construction companies should consider new options when it comes to job site safety in the wake of COVID 19.