Building trades to ramp up training, following crane collapse

By Alec Appelbaum | March 21, 2008 02:14PM

Fraud may dominate the talk about construction safety today, following yesterday’s arrest of a Buildings Department inspector for allegedly faking an inspection of the crane that collapsed and killed seven people on East 51st Street on Saturday. But inadequate training also dogs the construction industry, and now the contractors’ unions are trying to plug the knowledge gap, union officials say. 

Lou Coletti, who heads the Building Trades Employers’ Association, said hundreds of construction hazards result from paltry know-how. So his group, which includes some 200 large unionized construction firms, plans to bring in outside experts. 

Coletti told The Real Deal that he’s planning to recruit a consultant who’s “not doing business with the city” — possibly from the Construction Research Center at the University of Texas-Arlington — to train union apprentices on the latest safety techniques for pouring concrete and operating hazardous equipment, including cranes, in light of the Turtle Bay disaster

Still, Coletti defends his union’s members as more knowledgeable than less trained construction workers who often find work during a construction boom. He also argues that better training can set a foundation for the kinds of new paperwork the City Council is mulling.

“The Council was considering adopting contractor registration procedures,” Coletti said, “but what’s the point of registering contractors if you don’t require that their workers have sufficient safety training? So we’re going to be proposing that. We’re taking a look at the details now.” 

Coletti says the private sector should pay for such training.

“In the past, we have been supportive of legislative changes to require new monitoring and then the resources required aren’t there,” he says. “We know this mayor has been very good on enforcement but we don’t know the next one, and we don’t want to end up increasing the cost of construction to ourselves while bad guys keep violating the rules.” 

Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster, contending with the repercussions from yesterday’s arrest of inspector Edward J. Marquette, declined to address the efficacy of outside training.

“We will rely upon the findings of our forensic investigation to explore all possible solutions to preventing tragedies such as this,” she said in an emailed statement.