The city will conduct an “intensive, in-depth assessment” of high-risk construction in the city, the Department of Buildings announced Wednesday, one day after commissioner Patricia Lancaster resigned.
“This year, we have seen an increase in accidents and injuries related to high-risk construction activities,” acting commissioner Robert LiMandri said in a statement, “and we must make sure that as construction activity in the City continues to increase, the Department’s ability to hold the construction industry to higher safety standards keeps pace.”
The department will spend $4 million to bring in outside engineers and others to oversee the review.
Press release below, followed by a statement from Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
City Launching Comprehensive Analysis of High-Risk Construction Activities;
$4 Million Assessment of Crane, Concrete and Excavation Operations Underway
Acting Buildings Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri today announced an unprecedented $4 million investment to conduct an intensive, in-depth assessment of high-risk construction activities—high-rise concrete operations, excavations and crane operations—to determine the steps that need to be taken to make these specialized trades safer. Engineering experts will conduct in-depth site inspections to analyze the materials, processes and systems employed during these high-risk operations. These engineering experts will supplement the Department’s inspection staff by conducting highly-specialized inspections while also reviewing the Department’s current inspection protocols to identify any necessary changes to its oversight of these activities. Through this process, the Department will develop a Construction Analysis and Oversight Plan that will be a blueprint to expand the agency’s efforts to make high-risk construction activities safer.
“Construction safety requires unwavering commitment from every responsible party involved, at every level in the construction process. This year we have seen an increase in accidents and injuries related to high-risk construction activities, and we must make sure that as construction activity in the City continues to increase, the Department’s ability to hold the construction industry to higher safety standards keeps pace,” said Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri. “The assessment we are launching today is unprecedented. We are conducting a top-to-bottom analysis of how these industries function in the field so that we can best oversee them and hold them to the high safety standards New Yorkers deserve. This investment is about identifying ways in which the Department and the construction industry can make high-risk activities safer.”
The $4 million committed by Mayor Bloomberg to develop a Construction Analysis and Oversight Plan will enable the Buildings Department to immediately bring in approximately 20 specialized engineering experts who will work with the agency over the next eight to twelve months. In their analysis, these experts will conduct inspections and site visits, review protocols, and develop recommendations that the Department will implement on an ongoing basis, rather than wait for a final report.
Safety Analysis of Concrete Operations
Mainly used to build high-rise residential buildings and foundations, concrete operations – the pouring of concrete into formwork until the concrete is set and solid – pose unique challenges to builders in New York City. Often performed at incredible heights in open, unenclosed buildings exposed to the elements, concrete pouring can lead to serious accidents when safe practices and building regulations are not followed. In 2006 and 2007, concrete operations accounted for 30% of all high-rise construction incidents with a total of 48 incidents, 14 of which resulted in an injury or fatality. Of the 48 incidents, 47 involved material falling during the concrete phase of construction. Incidents have continued in 2008, including a collapse of concrete formwork at 246 Spring Street in Manhattan where one worker died and two sustained injuries. To develop this component of the Construction Analysis and Oversight Plan, experts in concrete operations will review the entire concrete phase of construction, including the installation of wood and steel formwork and related shores; the actions of pouring concrete into the formwork; and the stripping of formwork from set concrete. As part of this process, concrete experts will conduct site visits and inspections on both high- and low-rise construction sites, and will actively engage industry stakeholders—including assessing the expertise of the workers pouring and setting concrete to determine whether additional training is needed. The assessment and recommendations will also include a review of the frequency and substance of the Department’s current inspections of these operations and will recommend any changes needed to increase worker and public safety.
Safety Analysis of Excavation Operations
Excavation operations, which are most often conducted in preparation for laying a foundation, are a particularly challenging area of construction in New York City given the proximity and risk to neighboring properties and equipment. If not executed in accordance with properly engineered plans, excavations can injure or kill workers and seriously undermine the structural stability of neighboring properties. In 2006 and 2007, excavations and trenching operations have accounted for 13% of all construction incidents with a total of 101 incidents, 16 of which resulted in an injury or fatality. The Department created a new, permanent Excavations Team in 2007, which has conducted a total of 2,575 inspections and issued Stop Work Orders on 475 jobs. The results from the Excavations Team’s work demonstrates the need for additional oversight of this area of the construction industry, particularly in light of the looming deadline for the 421-a tax benefit program and the high volume of construction of new buildings throughout the five boroughs. Excavation experts will develop this component of the Plan using data from the Excavations Team and by conducting site visits and field inspections. In addition to assessing current practices to determine whether the industry is employing the best means and methods for digging and shoring operations to ensure the safety of their workers and of adjacent properties, excavation experts will examine the Department’s existing inspection protocols and the regulations applicable to excavation operations.
Safety Analysis of Cranes and Derricks
New York City currently has approximately 30 tower cranes and 220 mobile cranes in use. Crane accidents are rare, but as the accident on March 15, 2008 showed, when they happen, the results can be devastating. Tower cranes are highly-engineered hoisting structures comprised of stacked steel tower mast sections assembled on the construction site where they are to be used. Mobile cranes are pre-built structures that typically do not require on-site assembly to operate and are often smaller in size. The Department recently completed a sweep of tower crane inspections during which 8 of the 29 cranes inspected—28%—were shut down for some period of time. A review of mobile cranes is now under way, but the March 15 collapse that resulted in 7 fatalities and the results of the tower crane sweep have made clear that a thorough review of crane operations and oversight is needed. To develop this component of the Construction Analysis and Oversight Plan, crane experts will examine the Department’s current permitting and inspection practices and will review current industry practices on job sites to determine what changes can be made to improve safety and reduce the risk of injury or other harm to workers, the public, and public and private property. The participation of construction industry stakeholders in this process, from riggers to general contractors, will be critical to its success.
Recommendations Will be Implemented as They are Made
The Construction Oversight and Analysis Plan will be initiated through an emergency contract, to immediately get the resources needed to evaluate crane, concrete and excavation operations for gaps in existing safety protocols. The Department will not wait for a final report to begin to make changes in these critical areas and will act as soon as the need for a regulatory or operational change is clear. At the same time that this assessment and planning are underway, the Department will work with OMB to conduct an assessment of other high-risk activities, including demolitions and steel and curtain-wall erections to determine if a more in-depth review of these activities needed as part of the Construction Oversight and Analysis Plan.
Since 2002, the Buildings Department has worked aggressively to infuse integrity and accountability into the construction process. With aggressive safety enforcement models being utilized by the Stop Work Order Patrol, the Excavations Team, and the Buildings Enforcement Safety Team, Buildings inspectors are conducting more proactive inspections of construction activity across the five boroughs than at any point in the Department’s history. Building on this progress, the Construction Oversight and Analysis Plan will further the Department’s mission of furthering the safe and lawful use of all of New York City’s 975,000 buildings and properties.
New Yorkers are encouraged to call 3-1-1 to report non-compliant conditions or 9-1-1 to report emergencies at construction sites.
Re: DOB Construction Site Analysis
I want to commend the Mayor and Acting Commissioner LiMandri for making a much-needed investment in the long-term future of DOB. In the wake of the disclosure at the Council’s last hearing that a high-rise construction project was erroneously approved, the hiring of outside experts to examine high-risk construction activities is a step in the right direction.
All construction is difficult and dangerous. DOB needs to remain vigilant in its inspections of all construction operations. The protocols and standards of these operations and the frequency and substance of inspections are all fertile ground for improvement. However, the best way to restore the public’s trust in the Agency and ensure that all who live and work around construction sites are as safe as possible is to hire an adequate force of well-trained, professional inspectors.
The Council will continue to conduct close oversight of DOB and looks forward to hearing more details about this initiative at our next construction site safety hearing on May 6. We stand ready to legislate where the findings are justified and eagerly await reports from this new team of engineering experts.