Department of Buildings prioritizes job site safety as the New York City construction industry gets back to work

Gloves, blueprints, and tool belt on table
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Construction workers were among the millions of New Yorkers forced to stay home amid the pandemic as all non-essential construction jobs were put on hold. But as the city recovers from COVID-19, the hard-hats are heading out to job sites where extra measures are being taken to keep these workers safe from job related injuries. 

“As New York City recovers from COVID-19 and the construction industry gets back to work, we must continue to prioritize safety,” Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca said. 

The New York City Department of Buildings is enhancing oversight and accountability at construction sites across the city to keep New York workers and the public safe.

To ensure proper safeguards were in place to prevent worker falls and other related construction site injuries, Department of Buildings inspectors conducted Zero Tolerance sweeps at nearly 7,500 construction work sites across the five boroughs since June 1. The inspections conducted during the Zero Tolerance campaign were done in addition to hundreds of thousands of regular inspections by DOB inspectors throughout the city year-round, according to a press release from the Department of Buildings.  

On Monday, Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca announced that the sweeps resulted in nearly 1,500 Stop Work Orders and 3,600 issued violations for conditions that put workers and the public at risk. 

Between January and May of this year, there were seven building construction-related fatalities in New York City. But during the Zero Tolerance sweeps, which began on June 1, no workplace fatalities were reported. 

According to the Department of Buildings, the number of construction-related fatalities decreased for the first time in half a decade in 2019, and in 2020 there were 502 construction-related injuries, down 34% from the 761 construction-related injuries in 2018. But, the decrease in 2020 occurred amidst the pandemic when there was a pause on all non-essential construction.

The Department of Buildings plans to follow up on the “Zero Tolerance” construction safety campaign by performing continued interventions at specific sites that were found to have “egregious” site safety violations during the campaign, according to the release. 

The department will return to their routine, unannounced site safety inspections of New York City’s larger construction work sites and will push to enact proposed construction safety legislation which includes five new construction safety bills. 

During a city council subcommittee hearing on Housing and Buildings Monday, La Rocca discussed the importance of the proposed legislation and answered questions posed by council members. 

“Construction workers, who are critical to the economic growth of this City, and who are working on the tens of thousands of active construction sites throughout this City as we speak, must be able to go home to their families at the end of their shift,” La Rocca said during the council meeting.  

One of the bills would enhance oversight and accountability on construction sites, by creating a licensing requirement for general contractors

“In New York City you need a license to cut hair as a barber, but you don’t need a license to construct a tower,” said Andrew Rudansky, Press Secretary at NYC Department of Buildings. “This bill would change that.”

This proposed bill addresses a very big problem of the Department of Building’s ability to ensure accountability on job sites, La Rocca said during the hearing.  

“We must work together to do more to improve safety at construction sites,” La Rocca said.  

If enacted, the other bills would require more site safety supervision at larger work sites, strengthen requirements for cold-formed steel construction, and permanently ban the dangerous use of stand-off brackets for suspended scaffold work.

“This package of five forward-thinking pieces of legislation is crucial to protecting workers and eliminating construction site fatalities,” said Council Member Margaret Chin in the release. 

The new legislation will help “create a more robust culture of safety on our (New York City) job sites,” La Rocca said.

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