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New York City has long been a hotbed of construction activity, with significant jobs and projects perpetually underway. More recently, it’s also been known for taking a strong stance on worker safety.

People tend to think of New York’s strict COVID protocols, as it was one of the earliest cities to implement masking and vaccine mandates, but the city’s concern for construction workers’ wellbeing—and the subsequent regulations designed to protect them—goes back a bit further.

Following a high number of accidental deaths of construction workers in 2017, New York City implemented Local Law 196 mandating that jobsites implement site safety plans, assign a site safety coordinator, manager or a construction superintendent, and validate that all relevant workers have completed required safety training. Jobsites were given until March 1, 2021, to comply.

While the data is still out on how Local Law 196 is going, it shines a light on issues construction companies should consider in the days ahead.

Construction Safety Isn’t Limited to New York

While New York may garner the lion’s share of attention as a large construction market with strict safety policies, it is not alone. Currently, nine other states make a minimum of OSHA 10-hour Outreach Training mandatory for certain workers, and additional cities and states are expected to add similar legislation. The safety wave is coming, if it hasn’t already arrived in your area.

Construction industry leaders may ask the question, “What does such a mandate look like when implemented?” In New York’s Local Law 196, all workers must complete 40 hours of Site Safety Training and earn a SST Worker Card, while all supervisors need to complete 62 hours of SST Supervisor Training and get their SST Supervisor Card. This is regardless of whether workers are general contractors or subcontractors, and very few roles are exempt.

On top of this, the Department of Buildings requires all permit holders to keep a log of all construction workers, demolition workers, supervisors and proof of their completed safety training. Without valid proof, workers and supervisors are not allowed on a jobsite. And if they get caught onsite without their SST card, the permit holder can expect steep fines for non-compliance.

Pretty complicated stuff considering implementation—and this is just jobsites in New York City. Other OSHA safety training-related laws differ, sometimes significantly. Some may cover whole states rather than a specific city, while others are only enforced projects over a certain dollar amount, or they are limited to government-funded projects. Even though the intent of these laws is the same—to ensure a safe workplace—each one has its own nuances.

And herein lies a problem: Construction companies often struggle to adhere to one state’s or city’s regulations because of their complexities. Imagine how much more challenging management of safety certifications becomes when they are tasked with overseeing projects all over the country, where rules are not consistent.

Bracing for Change

The complexities highlighted by localized safety training hint at another stressor. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that change is constant. Whether it’s Local Law 196, a vaccination mandate or something else entirely, there is always something new just over the horizon that can dramatically affect operations and who can be hired for which jobs.

Triggering moments can be a slow boil, such as new regulations, where companies and workers are given ample time to plan and adjust (in the case of Local Law 196, they had four years). Other moments can happen seemingly overnight, like with COVID-19 and the tsunami of change that accompanied it. The feeling of uncertainty mounts, as the next big “thing” lurks around the corner. This causes a certain degree of discomfort to construction companies that often plan and budget years in advance.

The potential for disruption can wreak havoc. Companies may factor in more financial cushion to their projects, driving the price of a job up to offset hypothetical costs down the road. Other organizations might be tempted to adopt a disaster recovery mindset, trying to account for any possible scenario, from a cyber attack that cuts off or limits resources like electricity or access to the supply chain to another life-altering global pandemic. Whatever it is, organizations don’t want to be caught by surprise.

Data-driven Adaptability

Taken collectively, organizations are going to be forced to keep track of mountains of data. They will likely need to know everything from individuals’ safety training status to their vaccine status and much more to understand how to best deploy workers. This is a massive undertaking in and of itself. Then consider what happens when a new safety rule is added in one city, while vaccine status is no longer required on municipal projects one town over, and both locations draw from the same pool of workers and supervisors. They have a whole lot of data to manage and may need to adapt staffing.

Most construction companies' systems are not designed for the consistency of change. Even if information is tracked in real time, can the right people access it in a way that makes sense and is easy to interpret? Failure to do so can be quite costly, given how steep fines are becoming for non-compliance with area regulation.

Fortunately, technology has adapted to the current industry changes many leaders face today. With offerings designed around specific construction issues, systems can manage their data, and thus their workforce, far more effectively. Systems can also readily adapt to whatever the next big “thing” is that will impact the workforce. This is key to the future of the construction workforce: implementing technologies that understand the world around and how workers fit into it. Creating a centralized, simple and effective location for workforce visibility and worksite effectiveness, data has become the new adaptable force in enhancing solutions for any type of construction project, no matter how big or small. Data is vital, and so is flexibility. With the right systems in place, the unknowns of the future will not be able to slow down the important work of building and allow construction leaders to maintain stability for their jobsite and workforce.

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