Fake safety cards rampant at NYC construction sites: Report

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NBC 4 New York and Telemundo 47 undercover investigative reporters say they have discovered that the black market sale of fake safety training cards for New York City construction workers is still booming, despite more than two dozen on-the-job deaths in the last few years and outreach by local officials.

Workers on big projects are required by law to have 10 hours of training approved by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – and carry a card certifying completion. The training cost ranges from $150 to $300.

However, black market sales of fake cards have been become an increasing priority for investigators as more than 30 workers have died in construction accidents in the past two years, records show.

Mark Peters, commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), told the broadcasters that his agency has looked into deaths on construction sites where workers had fake OSHA cards, and the findings were troublesome.

“The fatalities were related to things that you would know to be careful of if you had proper safety training,” Peters said.

He described the fake cards as a real problem.

“Workers aren’t getting the safety training that they need when they have these fake cards – and that’s really dangerous,” Peters said.

The broadcast report quoted Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance as saying that in some cases, workers get fake cards because they don’t want to miss time on the job. Vance also said some employers don’t want the workers to take the time off to get cards.

“Many of these (workers) are non-English speaking. There is definitely a huge power differential between themselves and their employers,” Vance said.

The television investigators found it’s simple to get a fake card. “After just a few minutes talking with fake ID dealers on Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, an undercover producer purchased one for $60,” the report said.

The name of a certified OSHA trainer – Victor Pacheco – was printed on the card.

“This has been going on for seven or eight years,” Pacheco said, who’s been in the business for a decade and worked as an OSHA enforcement officer. “But it’s not only me. My boss, his name is being used on fake cards. People that work for me, their names are on fake cards. It’s all around.”

The DOI and Manhattan district attorney’s office have fought back, at times arresting workers with fake cards and those selling them. But now, with the Manhattan Construction Task Force, they’re trying a new approach in cooperation with other agencies.

“We have essentially said to workers, ‘Come in. Hand in your fake OSHA card. No questions asked,'” Peters said. “And we’ll take the card. We’ll give you the 10 hours of training. We’ll give it to you for free, and then you can have a legitimate card.”

The training is provided with local partners, including the Mexican consulate. In eight months, the program has taken 1,500 fake cards off the street.

Vance said the message to workers is clear: “We want you to be safe. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Your immigration status doesn’t matter. If you want to work in New York City, we want to help you make sure you and your family are safe.”