Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bloomberg Unveils Aggressive Construction Safety Reforms

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city leaders unveiled new reforms for construction site safety Wednesday afternoon, less than a week after a crane collapse on the Upper East Side left two dead and one seriously injured.

Flanked at City Hall by Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Acting Building Commissioner Robert LiMandri, the mayor presented what he called "unprecedented reforms," including a new and stronger system of regulating construction operations.

"This year's unacceptably high number of construction fatalities underscores why we must do more," said the mayor.

He also proposed more stringent regulations pertaining to subcontractors.

"We have to continue to construct. We have to continue to build," said Bloomberg. "We need schools, we need to build infrastructure. That is always there. But the first priority is safety."

"Building for the future and building safely are not mutually exclusive," continued Bloomberg. "We can and will do both -- but public safety is our top priority."

"City government will not sacrifice the safety of New Yorkers in the name of development," agreed Quinn.

Bloomberg said one component will be greater monitoring, including having site safety managers on the premises for concrete and demolition projects. Contractors will also now be required to comply with safety violations within 24 hours after summonses are issued.

The other proposals include requiring crane workers to complete at least 30 hours of safety training before they can take part in rigging operations. The use of nylon slings on cranes would also be restricted and the city wants to require managers to oversee concrete work at construction sites.

The mayor also warned of the dangers of messy work sites, which can put neighboring properties and the public at risk from falling debris. As a result, the proposal allows for the Department of Buildings to issue Immediately Hazardous violations.

The legislation also highlights crane safety and training on the heels of last week's deadly crane collapse, the second deadly crash this year. Among the proposals is a requirement of 30 hours' minimum training for any worker doing crane rigging operations.

And directly related to the March 15th collapse in Turtle Bay, nylon slings will be prohibited in most circumstances, unless manufacturers recommend them. The Department of Buildings found that a broken nylon sling was responsible for that collapse, which killed seven.

On a larger scale, the mayor called for a change to the qualifications for the buildings commissioner -- requiring the position to be held by either a licensed engineer or architect.

On hand for the press conference were leaders in the construction and building trades, who gave their endorsement of the safety reforms.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer responded to the announcement by saying the Department of Buildings cannot take on all of the reforms on its own and that an improved plan to implement changes is needed.

"There's no talk of how we're going to change the mindset of the department, the kind of resources that will take to implement this," said Stringer. "I worry that we are going to pile on a department that can't meet this challenge."

The new bills still need to be drafted and passed by the City Council.

Meanwhile, the Office of Emergency Management cleared residents of 354 East 91st Street whose apartments were not damaged in last Friday's collapse to return to their apartments just after 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Crews spent the past few days working to make sure the building was safe to be re-occupied. Doors that were knocked down as part of the evacuation had to be replaced before tenants were allowed to go home.

Residents said after days of staying in hotels, with friends, or at Red Cross shelters, it's comforting that they can move back; however, some still had a few reservations.

"I don't know about moving back to that though," said displaced resident Erin Biro. "My apartment is fine, but obviously there is still going to be a lot of hustle and bustle and noise. Just even out on the streets, daily life just isn't going to be the same."

"I've been staying with my dad and I'm very happy to finally be going back," said another.

"The thought that maybe we'd never come back, you know, because this is a very nice building," said a third. "We love it. I've been there for three years."

It could be several months before residents whose apartments were in the direct line of the collapse can return to their homes.

Meanwhile, the New York Times says major contracting companies are considering whether to hire third-party inspectors to ensure the safety of tower cranes.

Investigators looking into Friday's accident have been focusing on a turntable on the crane that had previously been repaired for a crack. The insurer for the crane company says the weld that had been done was inspected and tested twice before the crane was used on the project.

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