New York, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – New York City’s crack-down on safety this year has resulted in nearly 1,500 stop work orders and thousands of violations at construction sites across the five boroughs.
City Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca said on Sept. 13 that the orders and violations are the result of a three month sweep that saw department inspectors visiting nearly 7,500 building construction sites since June 1 to enforce the city’s new “Zero Tolerance” policies. Inspectors issued more than 3,600 violations to contractors and site safety professionals, she said, for failing to ensure sites were safe for workers.
Inspectors also issued 1,499 stop work orders, she said.
“DOB enforcement is of critical importance in promoting safety at construction sites; but the reality is that we cannot be in all places at all times,” La Rocca said in a statement. “To protect the lives of the working men and women who are building in our city, we need our partners in the construction industry to step up and join us in pushing for enhanced round-the-clock supervision and greater accountability.”
The “Zero Tolerance” construction safety campaign and resulting inspections are the department’s response to incidents earlier this year. Between January and May, the city saw seven construction site fatalities, the most recent of which was in May when a 49-year-old worker fell from a retail bank project roof in Brooklyn.
Over the course of the first two months of 2021, the city saw two deaths and 79 injuries at construction sites. In the first fatality, a worker was cleaning an area where a permanent building trash chute was being installed when he stepped on a hole cover that gave way and fell to the floor below. In the second, the worker fell from the roof of a building in Staten Island. Inspectors found that the working permit for the site had expired. Inspectors also found multiple safety violations and issued a full stop work order for failing to safeguard persons and property. Of the 79 injuries, 41 were also falls.
La Rocca said the recent sweep was in addition to the “hundreds of thousands” of regular development and enforcement inspections the department performs annually. Inspectors will be following up with the department’s “Zero Tolerance” construction safety campaign, she said, as it returns to its routine unannounced site safety inspections. The department will also conduct interventions at sites identified during the campaign where the most “egregious site safety violations” were found.
The department will also continue to push for construction safety legislation, she said.
In April, the department proposed five construction safety bills for consideration by City Council. The bills are designed to enhance oversight and accountability at construction sites, while building on work the department has done in recent year to reduce work site fatalities and injuries.
The proposed bills would create a licensing requirement for all general contractors, allowing the DOB to take disciplinary action against them if needed; require more site safety supervision at larger work sites, including drop the threshold for full-time DOB-licensed Site Safety Coordinators or Site Safety Managers to seven stories, and requiring DOB-licensed Construction Superintendents on work sites of seven stories or larger, strengthen the requirements for cold-formed steel construction, and permanently ban the use of stand-off brackets for suspended scaffold work.
The department has also worked with engineers, architects, attorneys, planners, tradespeople, the construction industry, labor representatives, real estate industry representatives, utility companies and other stakeholders to revise the construction code – the first comprehensive update to the Administrative, Plumbing, Building, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes since 2014.
The department is proposing 627 new or expanded changes to the existing code, along with thousands of minor changes. If passed by council and enacted, the changes would go into effect the following year.
“By working with industry experts and stakeholders, our updated codes will make our built environment safety for everyone living and working in our great city,” La Rocca previously said.
The department’s efforts have the support of groups like the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State chapter.
“While efforts have been made in recent years to improve and enhance the safety of construction sites, much more stands to be accomplished, particularly on non-union worksites, to ensure the safety of all construction workers,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the trades council.
So far, deaths at city construction sites appear to be dropping.
In March, “Deadly Skyline,” the annual report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NY-OSHA), found that New York City’s construction death toll increased in 2019 for the third consecutive year. That year, 24 construction workers died compared to 22 in 208. From 2010 to 2019, a total of 215 construction workers lost their lives on the job. The DOB released a report this year as well looking at the nearly 1,100 construction-related injuries in New York City between 2019 and 2020 and found that only 20 of them resulted in deaths.
The department’s efforts are supported not only by the city’s council members, but also by unions and the state’s occupational safety bureau.
“The goal of Associated Builders and Contractors’ Empire State Chapter is to make construction safer for all, so that every worker returns home safe to their loved ones, every night,” Brian Sampson, President of Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter, said in a statement. “We continue to support measures that improve overall safety in the industry, especially in New York City. Safety is everyone’s job, and we are committed to working with all parties to ensure that New York City is the safest market, for construction, in the nation.”
NY-OSHA said the department’s efforts saved lives.
“Enforcement of safety on job sites saves lives. Every inspection, every inspector, serves a purpose: to protect worker safety,” Charlene Obernauer, NY-OSHA executive director, said in a statement. “The zero tolerance campaign is essential in that it reminds employers of the law and cracks down on negligent employers who put workers at risk.”