Bringing the City Up to Code

I’m sure this will change life for architects, builders, etc., but will the average New Yorker be able to see the difference the new building code makes?

It will matter a great deal in ways that the average New Yorker cannot see. The analogy that I like to think of is that, two years ago in Florida, some houses had been built under the International Building Code—and when hurricane season was over, those houses were still standing, and the other houses were not.

Last year, six workers were killed when they were working on scaffolds while not using or misusing required safety harnesses. I understand that you are hiring or have hired 10 new inspectors and are spending $6 million for a new scaffold-safety unit. Can you explain what that will do?

The unit will be involved in proactive inspection, and it will involve bringing court cases or writing violations for people who are not being safe on scaffolds, as well as outreach. So: training, outreach and enforcement.

How many scaffolds can a 10-member crew inspect?

You’d be surprised. I can’t say all, but a good number of them—because we don’t get notification of C-hook usage. We do now because of legislation. A C-hook scaffold is the one that is used for maintenance on buildings. It’s a C-shaped hook that fits over the parapet, and its overturning moment is resisted by resistance from the building. It’s possible that there are tens of thousands of C-hooks in use.

My reading of the statistics is that almost half of the accidents last year were due to other types of accidents, but not due to scaffolding. What are you doing to address those?

We have a stop-work-order pilot in Queens, which means once we issue a stop-work order, we go back and check to see if you are working anyway. We also are doing an after-hours variance program pilot, where if we get a complaint about after-hours construction, we go immediately—and if we catch you, we prosecute you. We are doing a low-rise safety program, whereby we inspect buildings between seven and 14 stories high once a week.

Are you satisfied with safety improvements so far?

Well, I would say if one person dies, it’s too many. We have been more proactive than in the history of the agency in my administration, but we will continue until the deaths are down to zero.