Citing the example of two older ironworkers who fell to their deaths in February, New York City Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri kicked off a new, citywide safety awareness campaign in April:

The two workers, ages 49 and 51, apparently knew that safety harnesses were available onsite but were not wearing them.

“Experience alone does not make you invincible,” said Limandri as he announced the project. “A worker falling is a tragic accident that can be easily prevented, and this new campaign reminds workers and their supervisors to take steps in order to protect themselves, their colleagues and the public. No matter how many years you have worked in construction, you can lose your life if the appropriate safety measures are not in place.”

Commenting on the campaign and noting that New York City regulations require use of fall protection measures at any height greater than five feet, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni says, “Regulations set a standard, but authorities cannot be checking everywhere all the time. It is vital that Laborers, other tradesmen and contractors adopt strong safety-first orientations. Public interest campaigns like this one help.”

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LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

Limandri chose not to say whether lax company policy or supervision played a role in these particular deaths. Rather, he stressed that workers, particularly older workers, should know better than to work at heights without wearing safety harnesses. They need to be reminded, and younger workers need to recognize that some behaviors of their older peers should not be copied.

Some of the messaging is dramatic: A Worker Falling is the Most Common Construction Accident in New York City and Sixteen Workers Lost Their Lives Due to a Lack of Fall Protection since 2008. The Empire State Building was lit for a week in orange and white, the colors of the Experience is Not Enough campaign; thousands of safety posters in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Polish and English were distributed, and the Department passed out reminder bracelets to construction workers at jobsites across the city.

Safety awareness campaigns are sometimes criticized for a one-sided emphasis on consciousness raising, but in this case, the campaign combines with a variety of other safety initiatives taken by the Department. Limandri’s press statement notes that the Department has implemented more than 25 new laws to increase construction safety since 2008. It also has increased inspections, established a smoking ban on construction sites and required new training for tower crane operators. In combination with these many rule and enforcement changes, the campaign’s focus on awareness among workers is well-placed.

Indeed, the LHSFNA urges OSH authorities, nationally and at the state and local levels, to design and implement more safety awareness campaigns. New York’s Experience is Not Enough campaign is a good model.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is available to assist LIUNA signatory contractors in designing and implementing fall protection programs. For help, contact the Division at 202-628-5465. Also available are two health alerts, Falls for Heights and Fall Protection in Construction. Publications can be ordered through the online catalogue.

[Steve Clark]