DOB Safety Focus Shifts to Smaller Buildings

By Frank Fortino

A great deal of our time and energy is spent on the large projects that define the skyline, but the smaller ones truly need our attention. In announcing a new initiative to increase site safety, Commissioner Chandler revealed a surprising fact – that nearly 75% of all accidents occur at projects which are less than 10 stories.

The DOB has made preventing accidents a cornerstone, and a review of the cases indicates that many accidents could be prevented if contractors would follow existing safety rules. Like many parts of our business, an above-board site that follows all rules and procedures takes capital and people. In too many cases, developers have looked at violations as simply the cost of doing business.

With a new initiative, the DOB intends to change this thinking. They plan to implement a two pronged strategy – first to increase oversight by bringing on more inspectors and second, to increase the size of penalties.

The inspector base will grow with 100 new inspectors, who will focus on buildings under ten stories. The DOB will take a proactive approach here, starting with those contractors that have poor safety records. The inspectors will conduct site ‘sweeps’ ensuring that all mandated safety requirements are in place.

Starting in July, the DOB will take the additional step of requiring construction superintendents on site for these projects. This is a departure from the past, when only new construction would have this requirement. Superintendents will have the responsibility of reviewing sites on a daily bases, and logging all safety information.

The DOB intends to raise the pain level of infractions with a penalty schedule that quadruples the cost of each violation. Failure to safeguard construction sites – Class 1 fines – will increase from $2,400 to $10,000. Class 2 fines will increase from $1,200 to $5,000. Contractors who fail to comply with site superintendent requirements have a stiffer penalty – rising from $5,000 to $25,000.

The fines will go into effect in 90 days, so there’s time to prepare. Those contractors who still believe that the fines are the cost of doing business need to think twice, as the DOB intends to suspend or revoke licenses.

The DOB’s seriousness here can’t be understated. They are throwing resources at the problem, in the form of the new inspectors, and investing $120 million to make the City’s construction sites safer. With a second lever of expensive fines, they have the right approach to succeed.