NYC’s construction site inspections, enforcement ‘inadequate’

Dive Brief:

  • Nearly 90% of active New York City construction sites visited by the state comptroller’s office had safety issues, and the city’s Department of Buildings doesn’t effectively prioritize which sites get inspected, a new report found.
  • Officials from the New York State Comptroller visited 18 active construction sites last summer and reported 16 of those sites had a total of 77 safety issues, such as: not having a site safety manager, missing or incomplete site safety logs and daily inspection records and no documentation of workers completing required site safety training or attending mandatory safety meetings. 
  • In 60% of cases where hazardous conditions were present for more than 30 days, DOB did not issue a citation for failing to correct the problem, according to the report.

Dive Insight:

Though DOB did agree with most key recommendations in the report, Eric Ulrich, commissioner at the DOB, said in email to the deputy comptroller that “it is important to note that the onus is on contractors and site safety professionals” to ensure safety on construction sites. 

He also added that while DOB has procedures in place to follow up on injuries and fatalities, there are “practical limitations that at times prevent DOB from becoming aware of deaths that occur after an incident or accident has occurred at a construction site.”

But New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in the report that it’s the DOB’s responsibility to enforce construction site safety regulations.

“Our audit identified many situations where DOB did not pursue additional enforcement actions for contractors or building owners, such as issuing violations for failure to certify corrections when immediate hazards were not addressed,” said DiNapoli in the report. “When DOB is aware of a pattern of non-compliance, such as unaddressed safety issues, it should escalate enforcement actions.”

To identify the safety issues cited in the report, New York State Comptroller officials visited 43 construction sites between June 10, 2021 and August 31, 2021, of which 18 were actively under construction.  

But Ulrich said since DOB staff weren’t present during those visits, the department couldn’t take action against any potential violations.

“It should be noted that no DOB staff was present during those visits. As we stated to the auditors, DOB inspectors can only take enforcement actions for conditions that are observed by a DOB inspector at the time of inspection,” said Ulrich. “Additionally, it should be noted that site conditions are also inherently transitory in nature; they may change on a daily, or even hourly basis; therefore, the types of conditions that the auditors noted may not be present at the time of DOB’s inspection.”

For its part, DOB reported 2,003 building construction-related incidents occurred between January 1, 2018 and May 15, 2021. These incidents resulted in 36 deaths and 2,066 injuries, with 75% of those deaths in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Not up to par

The comptroller’s report said DOB needs to enhance its efforts to ensure owners, contractors and other responsible parties report all building construction site incidents and comply with the codes, rules and regulations, as its processes are currently not up to par.

For example, the report found DOB’s enforcement activities do not address hazardous onsite conditions in a timely manner. DOB officials generate violations almost three months after inspection despite the requirement that these conditions be corrected immediately, according to the report. 

The comptroller also said DOB does not prioritize which sites should be proactively inspected for safety conditions. Generally, DOB inspections were performed after an incident had occurred or a complaint had been received. Prior enforcement actions and contractors’ safety history are data sets that DOB could use to help identify high-risk construction sites, the report said.

DOB’s procedures to identify incidents and report injuries and deaths at building construction sites are also inadequate, the report found. For example, three deaths and six injuries reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration between January 2018 and May 2021 were not reported by DOB.

Leave a comment