WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration has finalized the first operational rules (PDF) for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”), opening pathways towards fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace. These new regulations work to harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives.
On April 30, 2015 the New York Landmarks Conservancy presented their annual prestigious Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards for outstanding preservation projects in New York City.
Vertical Access is proud to have been part of the team that received recognition for the restoration of the Conrad B. Duberstein U. S. Courthouse in Brooklyn, NY.
General Services Administration
Goody Clancy & Associates
Boston Valley Terra Cotta
Jablonski Building Conservation
Nicholson & Galloway
Robert Silman Associates
A recent article in the Daily Commercial News describes the process of rehabilitating historic buildings – called heritage buildings in Canada – and mentions Vertical Access’ investigation of One King West, the former Dominion Bank Building in Toronto, Ontario. The article recaps a seminar presentation by Sarah Gray, managing principal with Halsall Associates, our client for the One King West project.
Ms. Gray highlighted the importance of archival research, testing, and inspection in the early stages of a repair or rehabilitation project. For One King West, Vertical Access provided a hands-on inspection and documentation of building conditions using TPAS™, the Tablet PC Annotation System. TPAS is now being used for the construction administration of the rehabilitation of One King West, demonstrating the flexibility and adaptability of the software for a variety of documentation and reporting needs.
The article, entitled “Heritage envelope rehab a balancing act”, was written by Dan O’Reilly and was published on January 5, 2015.
The title of this post is the opening sentence from a guest viewpoint published in the Ithaca Journal on March 14, 2014 – Scaffold Law Hurts Contractors, Economy, by Brad Walters. It goes on to say …
A recent Cornell study exposes the ugly truth about New York’s antiquated Section 240 of the Labor Law, more commonly known as the scaffold law. The law was created in 1885 and has remained unchanged over the years, in spite of greatly improved materials, methods, safety procedures and safety equipment. The law was put into effect in the days when contractors used wooden scaffolding to build high-rise buildings in New York City. Today, no other state in the country has such a law. In fact, the Cornell study suggests there is no other law like it on the planet.
The last state in the United States to have such a law was Illinois, and lawmakers there abolished it in 1995. So what were the results when Illinois put an end to the law? A study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Illinois from 1995 to 2006 found that construction fatalities fell from 1.7 per one hundred thousand to -2 per 100,000 workers, and construction injuries fell from 2.7 per hundred workers to -0.7 per 100 workers. That same study found that statewide construction jobs increased from roughly 220,000 annually to a high of almost 280,000 jobs. continued – download full article (pdf)
The full Cornell study is available to download here:
The Costs of Labor Law 240 on New York’s Economy and Public Infrastructure
Final Report to New York Civil Justice Institute
December 31, 2013
By Kent Diebolt
One of the state-specific challenges of doing business in New York has to do with two little-known New York State Labor Law statutes from the late 19th Century. Described as necessary and good laws when they were passed in 1885, things have changed in the last century, particularly with the advent of mandatory Workers’ Compensation insurance and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations passed in the early 1970s.
Intended to protect construction workers and also known as NYS Labor Laws 240/241, these statutes place “absolute liability” on the contractor and building owner for injuries or fatalities resulting from a fall from height. In cases such as this, the entire onus is on the employer and no findings of liability on the part of the employee are permitted. Liability on the part of the employer is assumed in all cases and the concept of proportionality of responsibility or use of recalcitrant worker or culpable conduct defense may not be considered by the courts and by statute, are considered irrelevant to these cases.
Findings of fault without a jury trial or damages result and judgment are made by a trial judge. However, since the defendant (employer) is de-facto guilty and cannot defend against claims, virtually all of these cases result in a guilty judgment or a settlement associated with very high costs for the insurance companies involved. Hearings for settlement amounts are made in front of a jury and since the guilty judgement has already been rendered, the awards tend to be “huge”. If they are held at all, mediation hearings essentially determine the amount of damages, since culpability has been established by statute.
At one time, all 50 states had similar legislation on their books but with the exception of New York State, these were all repealed or reformed subsequent to OSHA and worker’s compensation legislation. As a result, worker’s compensation is the sole recourse in these states unless negligence can be demonstrated on the part of the employer. Similar to the other 49 states, proposed reform of New York State’s 240/241 will not eliminate the rights of a worker to sue an employer for negligence but will allow employers to defend themselves in court. Reform would allow owners/contractors to present evidence, which is not presently allowed.
A Toxic Insurance Environment in New York State
All of this has resulted in a toxic insurance environment in New York State, with general liability and worker’s compensation premiums for companies that employ workers at height far exceeding the average rates in the rest of the country. Many insurance companies have left the New York State market because of the high frequency of successful claims, their inability to defend against claims and the severity of the rewards that result.
240/241 statures are kept in place due to political influence brought to bear primarily by labor unions and various New York State tort lawyer associations. Since a percentage of the awards are taken by the law firm, 240/241 cases represent very little risk associated with extremely high rewards to law firms trying these cases. Minor risk with very high, guaranteed returns result in a steady income stream for these law firms. Essentially, all a plaintiff’s attorney must do is establish the case as a 240/241 legal case. Historically, these cases have been broadly interpreted and are rarely turned down by the courts. Once in the courts, high rewards are all but guaranteed. Once a summary judgment is granted, interest is applied at 9% per year until the case is finally resolved.
In the last year, I have attended two excellent programs on this topic. The first was organized in March 2013 by the Greater New York Construction User Council. The second was in mid-January of this year, and was organized by the New York City Master Riggers Association, which hosted keynote speaker Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.
Tom presented historic background on 240/241, comparisons to insurance costs in other states and an excellent overview of the current situation in Albany. LRANY has also organized an industry lobbying day in Albany, set for early February. A link to download the presentation is provided below.
The issue of New York’s Labor Laws 240/241 is one that needs to be addressed. It is a major reason for the high cost of construction and buildings maintenance in New York State and is significant contributor to a lack of competitiveness both between neighboring states as well as within the state.
The Scaffold Law and the Campaign for Reform (Tom Stebbins’ presentation, PDF download)
Scaffold Law Reform website
Contractors and Workers at Odds Over Scaffold Law, by Kirk Semple, New York Times, December 17, 2013.
Mike Gilbert and Keith Luscinski traveled to Golden, Colorado this month to attend the 2012 conference for the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT). SPRAT is an organization comprised of individuals, companies, and agencies that have a stake in the safe development of rope access standards and practices. Although SPRAT is based in the United States, its scope is international. Currently, SPRAT members hail from the USA, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The membership includes individual practitioners, companies that provide rope access services, training or equipment, and government agencies.
SPRAT supports rope access practitioners with certification programs, regulatory support, networking, and opportunities to participate in developing industry-consensus standards. The key elements of the conference took place on Thursday and Friday, January 12 and 13.
On Thursday afternoon, a meeting was held by the Standards Committee, which comprises all SPRAT members. The Standards Committee oversees the key subcommittees that maintain and promulgate the current SPRAT standards and formulate new standards. SPRAT has recently been seeing growth in new countries and industries, which was certainly evidenced by the committee’s attendance. Members were present from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Turkey, as well as from the window cleaning, chimney repair and telecommunication sectors. Vertical Access, however, was one of only a few firms representing the East Coast.
An interesting new development by the Standards Committee is the introduction of a rope access company audit program. This effort is the purview of the Company Audit Subcommittee. Keith attended the subcommittee meeting Thursday afternoon.
Intended to be a voluntary process, the audit would add distinction to businesses that are fully SPRAT compliant. Currently, SPRAT certifies individual technicians but has no process for evaluations at the employer level. This year will likely see a handful of trial runs of the audit program, with a full implementation of the program within the next few years. Vertical Access is interested in this program, and will likely participate in the “beta testing”.
Friday was primarily given over to presentations by the SPRAT membership and interested outside parties and without a doubt, the hottest topic at the conference was Petzl’s presentation of its recent statement regarding the Shunt backup device. Used by the majority of industrial rope access technicians in the United States, the Shunt has been an inexpensive, lightweight and user-friendly fall-protection/backup device for over fifteen years.
Petzl’s recent statement addresses the hazard of an uncontrolled descent should the user either fail to let go of the Shunt or grab the Shunt in the event of a fall or working line failure. While this hazard has been acknowledged by Petzl and rope access practitioners for years, recent testing suggested the previous policy of allowing the Shunt to be used by trained technicians does not adequately mitigate the hazard.
The conclusion is that in spite of our best intentions, we cannot train panic. As part of the statement, Petzl advises against the use of the device for industrial rope access applications. Many industrial rope access companies are now searching for other backup devices that are “panic proof,” meaning that they will arrest a fall even if grabbed by the user.
While every occupation has its hazards, historical data shows an exceedingly low rate of major injuries to industrial rope access technicians. See statistics gathered by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association.
SPRAT is reviewing its evaluation criteria in light of the previously ubiquitous use of the Shunt device. Vertical Access will begin using an alternative device, while we all await the development of the ideal backup device. Attention all inventors…..