The city is testing the waters for a new look to the boxy, dull-colored sidewalk scaffolding sheds that fill the streets of Manhattan. Currently, about 4,500 of these aesthetic gems are set up in the city.
Patricia Lancaster, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Buildings, today announced a series of scaffold measures including the planned test of a prototype design of a sidewalk shed—one built “to improve pedestrian safety, increase natural light on the sidewalk, and improve the streetscape around construction sites,” according a press release.
Ms. Lancaster also announced a 30-day crackdown on unsafe scaffolding, a move that comes after the unsteady scaffold-related death of a worker at a Brooklyn construction site last month.
BUILDINGS COMMISSIONER PATRICIA LANCASTER LAUNCHES COMPREHENSIVE INITIATIVE TO IMPROVE SUPPORTED SCAFFOLD AND SIDEWALK SHED SAFETY
Department Inspecting 1,500 Sites Over Next 30 Days, Instituting Notice Requirement for Scaffolds Below 40 Feet, Developing Additional Design and Safety Measures
Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA, announced that beginning today the Buildings Department will undertake a 30-day citywide crackdown on unsafe supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds – more than 1,500 of which will be inspected. The inspections are the first step in the Department’s new Safety Analysis and Field Evaluation (SAFE) Scaffold & Shed Initiative, a comprehensive package of increased enforcement, operational and regulatory initiatives, and design improvements to increase scaffold and sidewalk shed safety. This morning, Commissioner Lancaster issued a regulatory notice reminding design professionals, contractors, and scaffold companies of the technical requirements that must be followed to ensure the safety of supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. (See attached regulatory notice.) Buildings inspectors will have zero tolerance for structures that fail to meet them.
“Recent incidents have demonstrated that proper design standards and installation techniques for supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds have not been consistently followed,” said Commissioner Lancaster. “Today we are significantly stepping up enforcement of these requirements and putting developers, contractors, and workers on notice: scaffolds and sidewalk sheds must be up to code, or we will halt your work until you comply.”
As part of the SAFE Scaffold & Shed Initiative, the Department will institute a new notification requirement for supported scaffolds under 40 feet; increase coordination with the NYPD and the Criminal Justice Coordinator to hold careless drivers who damage scaffolds and sidewalk sheds accountable; and enhance enforcement of federal worker training requirements. And the Department will improve sidewalk shed safety through better design by implementing a prototype of a new sidewalk shed. This initiative builds upon the substantially increased enforcement efforts that the Buildings Department has undertaken since Mayor Bloomberg signed the New NYC Construction Codes last July, and on the success of the Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force, which last year implemented measures that resulted in a decrease in accidents involving suspended scaffolds.
30-Day Inspection Sweep
The SAFE Scaffold & Shed Initiative will begin with an intensive 30-day, citywide inspection sweep of more than 1,500 properties with supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. Buildings inspectors will have zero tolerance for scaffolds and sheds that are improperly installed or do not meet the Building Code’s design requirements. Stop Work Orders will be issued on those jobs and will not be lifted until all deficiencies are corrected and workers demonstrate that they have the required training. Commissioner Lancaster issued a regulatory notice this morning summarizing the technical requirements that must be met to ensure that supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds are safely constructed and used. (See attached regulatory notice.) Buildings inspectors will have zero tolerance for structures that fail to comply. The Department’s Scaffold Safety Team will inspect supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds using an enhanced protocol that includes a review of the scaffold structure to ensure compliance with approved wind load calculations. Using data from the 30-day inspection sweep launched today, the Buildings Department will work with the Task Force—which includes representatives from the construction industry, organized labor, immigrant advocacy groups, and others—to identify and implement additional measures to protect workers and the public.
Increased Enforcement Measures
While design flaws and non-compliant construction contribute to the challenges posed by scaffolds, careless or reckless drivers often damage sidewalk sheds and supported scaffolding, putting worker and public safety at risk. Drivers and business owners whose employees damage scaffolding, accidentally or intentionally, must be held accountable. The Buildings Department will work with NYPD and the Criminal Justice Coordinator to look at additional measures to hold careless or reckless drivers accountable for damaging scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. In addition, the New NYC Construction Codes that go into effect July 1 this year will require the responsible party who oversees supported scaffolds to inspect the structures daily and to keep the results of these inspections in a maintenance log readily available to the Buildings Department.
Notice for Supported Scaffold Installations Below 40 feet
As part of the SAFE Scaffold & Shed Initiative, the Buildings Department will promulgate a new rule requiring contractors who install supported scaffolds less than 40 feet in height to notify the Department 48 hours in advance of the installation. This notification requirement will enable the Scaffold Safety Team to locate and proactively inspect these sites to ensure that they are safe and code-compliant. A supported scaffold is a system of pipes, wood and safety netting assembled along a building’s exterior so that workers can perform façade maintenance and other tasks. (See Appendix A and B for examples of compliant an
d non-compliant supported scaffolds.) Currently, only supported scaffolds that are 40 feet or higher require a permit from the Buildings Department, and as of February 20, 2008, there are nearly 1,300 permitted, supported scaffolds in use throughout the five boroughs. In addition, there are thousands of supported scaffolds under 40 feet in height that are used for interior construction work, brownstones, and other low-rise buildings below five stories.
Improving Sidewalk Shed Safety Through Better Design
As part of the SAFE Scaffold & Shed Initiative, the Buildings Department, in partnership with the Department of Design and Construction and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, will test a design prototype of a new sidewalk shed engineered to improve pedestrian safety, increase natural light on the sidewalk, and improve the streetscape around construction sites. The Buildings Department is studying the need for additional safety enhancements, including securing sheds to the sidewalk in certain cases for added stability and enhancing the required wind-load calculations for shed installation. A sidewalk shed is a temporary bridge-like structure built over a sidewalk to protect pedestrians during construction on or near a building’s façade. (See Appendix C and D for examples of compliant and non-compliant sidewalk sheds.) Due to the construction boom and the mandatory façade-maintenance requirements, there are approximately 4,500 sidewalk sheds installed citywide.
The Buildings Department will engage the Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force on all of these measures to build upon the progress made in addressing accidents related to suspended scaffolds in 2006. As of February 2008, 12 of the 13 recommendations presented by the Task Force have been implemented, and the Department hopes to extend this success to supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. The recommendations included the creation of a Scaffold Safety Team at the Buildings Department, expanded and streamlined training requirements, increased penalties, new legislation to enhance enforcement capabilities, and improved coordination between the Buildings Department and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To view the full Suspended Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force report, “Steps to Safety,” or to view Task Force progress reports, visit www.nyc.gov/buildings.
New Yorkers are encouraged to call 3-1-1 to report non-compliant conditions or 9-1-1 to report emergencies at construction sites.