Between 2016 and the first half of 2017, 30 construction workers have died in New York City alone. When OSHA investigators look further into these deaths, they often find that the accidents could have been prevented if the workers had only used the information they were given in their 10-hour OSHA safety course. Every construction worker in New York City must have a valid OSHA safety card, and it costs anywhere from $150 to $300 to earn one. But as OSHA investigators look closer, they are finding a rising number of fake cards that trigger an alarming trend.
What Is An OSHA Safety Card?
A valid OSHA safety card is proof that you took the 10-hour construction safety course offered by OSHA that is mandatory in the state of New York. That course includes:
- Information on the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers
- The ability to identify conditions that lead to the major types of construction worker hazards on job sites
- Information on safety and life-saving equipment
- The correct way to handle dangerous materials
- Safety rules about handling dangerous equipment, especially power tools
- Understanding the roles workers and management play in work site safety
The OSHA safety card is an important document for everyone in the New York State construction scene. You must earn your card within six months of starting your job, or you will be removed. The safety card requirement applies to:
- Site supervisors
- Site inspectors
- Workers on public projects
- Any worker involved with construction activities
How Easy Is It To Make A Fake Card?
One of the problems OSHA is experiencing right now is that it is very easy to create a fake card that will convince any employer that the course was successfully completed. The cards have official OSHA trainer signatures on them and can be purchased on the black market for much less than the cost of the course. The fake card is laminated, uses the same color and type of paper as the real card, and it looks exactly like an official card. The problem is that the fake card does not come with the valuable training that can save a worker’s life.
Who Is Using Fake Cards?
The majority of people getting these fake cards are immigrant workers, documented and undocumented, who do not speak English but need to pass the safety course. Another problem workers experience is that employers will not give workers the time off they need to complete their course and get their real card. For many workers, they have to choose between getting a real card or keeping their jobs. The wide availability of fake cards makes this decision unfortunately easy for the average construction worker.
Why Are Safety Cards So Important?
OSHA believes that if workers know the updated safety laws, then they can identify and prevent unsafe conditions on the work site. Since OSHA is continually updating its safety guidelines, it is important that workers take the course to get the latest and most comprehensive information. Workers also learn their rights to a safe work place during the training, which is important in helping workers to prevent accidents.
The safety training consists of more than topics on just construction safety. It also touches on cultural issues that affect the construction industry, identifying health hazards, and avoiding a “negative safety culture.” The term “negative safety culture” is used to identify any work place that ignores safety rules at the expense of workers’ health to cut corners on production. These types of cultures are responsible for a majority of the worker deaths in New York City, and around the country.
Contrary to what some construction companies would like people to believe, there is no such thing as a built-in sense of safety for a construction worker. These 10-hour courses give workers an introduction to a variety of situations that they will experience on the job and show the workers how to handle those situations. Many immigrant workers go from the training course to their first ever construction job, and everything is brand new. Without the proper kind of safety training, that new worker is a danger to themselves and others.
Cracking Down On The Fake Card Market
The safety card system, at this point, is an honor system that relies on construction companies to make sure that all of their workers have valid OSHA cards. As we have discussed, some companies won’t even give workers the 10 hours off from work to do the training, so relying on companies to help make sure all cards are current is a difficult path to take.
Another problem with fake cards is that there are simply not enough OSHA inspectors in the field to go to every job site and look at every card. Even if they could look at every card, a fake card can be difficult to spot because they are so easy to make. More experienced inspectors can sometimes tell a fake card right away, but sometimes construction safety is thrown to the wind when an inspector cannot spot a fake card and the construction worker is unable or unwilling to get a valid card.
New York City building inspectors are often asked to keep a watch for fake OSHA safety cards, but they are not trained to spot fake cards. The result is that many construction companies can complete several projects with workers who have fake cards before any inspection is actually done. This not only puts the lives of workers at risk but, it also puts the lives of the people who live next to the construction sites at risk as well.
How Can Forgery Be Made Harder?
For the last few years, OSHA has been requesting funding to redesign their safety cards to make them more difficult to fake. With today’s technology, cards can be created that contain special chips and stamps that forgers could never accurately replicate. As the problem with fake cards escalates, the urgency for more funding increases. Recent reports indicate that Congress is preparing to open up more funding to help OSHA create cards that are harder to fake.
The other side of the fight deals with increased fines and heavier penalties for repeat offenders. There are construction companies in New York City that have an impressive list of OSHA safety card violations that are still allowed to get building permits and administer projects. If OSHA has its way, recurring offenders will be shut down and unable to start new projects until they show a commitment to hiring only workers who have valid safety cards. It has been apparent that fines alone are not enough of a deterrent to stop companies from allowing fake safety cards. But taking away the ability to start new projects should convince repeat offenders to get with the program.
Construction safety is a critical part of the construction industry, and it all starts with the OSHA 10-hour safety course. It is a relatively short period of time to dedicate to an extremely important topic, but many construction companies in New York State are not seeing the value in sending their workers to safety training. As safety cards become harder to fake and the penalties for hiring workers with fake cards become more severe, it is expected that companies will get in line and insist their workers have the very basic type of safety training before they get to work.