The Department of Buildings (DOB) has launched a new series of surprise winter safety sweeps at construction sites throughout the five boroughs, and amNewYork Metro rode along as they made one of their inspections.
This initiative comes after a series of tragic workplace deaths occurred late last year; the DOB says the actions are necessary to ensure site safety throughout the harshest months and, in turn, minimize accidents.
To that end, the DOB aims to inspect every single construction zone in the Big Apple — some 40,000 locations — by this spring. As of Jan. 24, when we tagged along with DOB inspectors in Lower Manhattan, the agency had already completed hundreds of sweeps as part of its gargantuan goal.
During our visit, the inspectors examined 15 Beekman St., a 27-story building intended to house school classrooms, a library, and student dorms for Pace University. Although work is in its final stages, the DOB reports that accidents are still possible at any point during construction.
Led by Construction Inspector Joen Perez of the DOB Construction Safety Compliance unit, a small group of DOB agents began their inspection by visually examining the building from the outside before taking a hoist elevator to the top floor and beginning their sweep from above.
For Perez, no detail is too small; on the roof, the inspector looked for holes that debris could fall through, possibly hitting a worker below. He also pointed out that fire extinguishers left on the ground are prohibited; they likewise must be examined each month by the FDNY and properly pressurized.
Perez also made surprise checks of employee ID cards not only to ensure that the men and women working on the site have the correct training to operate the machinery, but to also make certain their qualifications are not expired.
“We’re checking that sites are taking the correct safety precautions, that the guys and gals working on the site have the safety training that is required to be in a construction site so they can identify themselves in any situation where it might have to be brought to the attention of the site safety manager,” Perez explained. “It’s more about educating with a special focus on fall protection safety.”
According to DOB statistics, falls are the number one killer on job sites. As Perez descended the building via the stairwell, he stopped on each floor and analyzed metal cables that are in place to both prevent debris from falling into the street and workers from toppling overboard.
The inspector pointed out that the cables must be pulled taut; however, upon discovering a loose cable, he instructed the on-site safety manager to have it immediately fixed.
Other small issues were discovered, such as wires that could cause tripping hazards and other materials that could lead to workers or firefighters having difficulty navigating in the event of an emergency. Still, Perez told amNewYork Metro that this was not grounds for a violation, as this condition could be swiftly fixed.
“There were some minor things that I felt could have been a little better, which I brought to their attention, and they fixed it while we were still on site—nothing too major. A little housekeeping issues, some egress blockage which they were able to take care of. So, a pretty clean site; nothing was written today,” Perez said.
Perez emphasized that the sweeps are not intended as an excuse to issue violations but to promote safety. The sweep also scoured the area looking for signs that made the building easy to navigate and warnings that indicate lasers used for measuring are in use in a section of the construction.
The team ended by checking the blueprints to confirm the layout was properly established.
Additionally, DOB agents handed out pamphlets written in Spanish and English to be reviewed during morning discussions.
amNewYork Metro pressed Perez regarding the four deaths in late 2022 and their ongoing battle to prevent similar fates this year.
“I mean, there were two deaths in November and two deaths in December that could have been avoided. And again, that’s four deaths too many; it should be stuff that shouldn’t happen. We want these guys to get back to their home— to their families every day after the workday,” Perez said. “It’s unfortunate that that happened.”