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For Immediate Release   
April 4, 2008


Results Being Used to Track Construction Trends and Enhance Worker and Pedestrian Safety

Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA, today announced the results of the Buildings Department's 30-day citywide inspection sweep launched February 20 to crack down on unsafe supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. Of the 1,654 sites inspected as part of the sweep, which ended March 20, 28% of the inspected supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds did not comply with the City's Building Code. Buildings Inspectors also found that 44% of the sites with non-compliant supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds had safety-related conditions, such as incorrect installation and/or improper bracing.

"The safety of New Yorkers is this Department's top priority. While these results show that a majority of supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds are being properly and safely constructed and maintained, almost half of the sites in violation had unacceptable safety issues. Builders must not risk the public's safety," said Commissioner Lancaster. "We will use the data from this sweep to enhance worker and pedestrian safety. We must continue to aggressively enforce sidewalk safety to better protect the millions of people who live, work and visit our City."

As part of the Buildings Department's Safety Analysis & Field Evaluation (SAFE) Scaffold and Shed Initiative launched in February, the Scaffold Safety Team inspected properties with supported scaffolds (a system of pipes, wood and safety netting generally assembled along a building's exterior) and sidewalk sheds (temporary bridge-like structures built over a sidewalk). Currently, only supported scaffolds to be built 40 feet or higher require a permit from the Buildings Department. As of February 20, there were nearly 1,300 permitted supported scaffolds and approximately 4,500 sidewalk sheds installed citywide. Structures improperly installed, or those that did not meet the Building Code's design requirements, were issued violations and/or Stop Work Orders.

During the sweep, the Scaffold Safety Team inspected 1,654 sites: 1,243 sidewalk sheds and 411 supported scaffolds. Of the 411 supported scaffolds, 304 were above 40 feet in height and 107 were below 40 feet. The following number of inspections took place in each borough:

  • Bronx: 209 sites inspected -
    172 sidewalk sheds and 37 supported scaffolds;

  • Brooklyn: 305 sites inspected -
    217 sidewalk sheds and 88 supported scaffolds;

  • Manhattan: 908 sites inspected -
    684 sidewalk sheds and 224 supported scaffolds;

  • Queens: 216 sites inspected -
    161 sidewalk sheds and 55 supported scaffolds; and

  • Staten Island: 16 sites inspected -
    9 sidewalk sheds and 7 supported scaffolds.

Buildings Inspectors issued violations to 459 of the 1,654 sites inspected - 44% these violations were safety-related. Additionally, 210 sites were issued Stop Work Orders accounting for 13% of the sites inspected. The safety sweep resulted in 449 violations being issued for sidewalk sheds - 26% for failing to provide a permit for electrical lighting; 13% for not having the drawings for the structure on site during the inspection; and 13% for failing to have a permit or having an expired permit for the shed. During the sweep, 146 violations were issued for supported scaffolds - 17% for failing to provide approved drawings for the structure during the inspection; 15% for failing to have a permit or having an expired permit for the scaffold; and 9% were for failure to maintain the structure. The following is breakdown by borough of violations and Stop Work Orders:

  • Bronx: 15 sites were found to be in violation and 5 Stop Work Orders were issued;

  • Brooklyn: 87 sites were found to be in violation and 43 Stop Work Orders were issued;

  • Manhattan: 272 sites were found to be in violation and 120 Stop Work Orders were issued;

  • Queens: 84 sites were found to be in violation and 41 Stop Work Orders were issued; and

  • Staten Island: 1 site was found to be in violation and 1 Stop Work Order was issued.

The Scaffold Safety Team issued Stop Work Orders for a range of violating conditions, including building the structure contrary to Department-approved plans and failing to provide a permit for the structure. The Department will re-inspect sites that were issued violations for safety-related issues to ensure that violations are resolved. Civil penalties range from $2,000 for a first offense to $10,000 for a third offense, and a violation of a Stop Work Order can result in a fine as high as $10,000. The Buildings Department may pursue criminal prosecutions against builders who continuously disobey a Stop Work Order.

The newly-expanded Scaffold Safety Task Force - which examines the construction, use and maintenance of suspended and supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds - will use the inspection sweep results to identify areas for improvement and strategize solutions to increase the safety of these structures. The Task Force will develop a set of recommendations by the end of the month to enhance oversight and enforcement of the contractors erecting and utilizing these structures, as well as to bolster outreach and training to the construction workers who use supported scaffolds and sidewalk sheds. These recommendations will build upon the increased enforcement, operational and regulatory initiatives announced as part of the SAFE Scaffold and Shed Initiative, which includes developing a new notification requirement for particular supported scaffolds under 40 feet in height and increasing coordination with the NYPD and the Criminal Justice Coordinator to hold drivers who damage scaffolds and sidewalk sheds accountable.

In addition, the Task Force is developing a campaign to educate design professionals, contractors and scaffold and shed companies about proper procedures. The Buildings Department is also working with the Department of Design and Construction and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to design a prototype of a new sidewalk shed that would improve pedestrian safety. The Scaffold Safety Task Force is comprised of more than 70 members from Federal, State and City government agencies, labor, immigrant-advocacy groups, workers-rights representatives, and representatives from the scaffold and sidewalk shed industry.

"By expanding educational outreach, workers will be more aware of the rigorous safety standards that the Buildings Department has set in place," said Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Guillermo Linares. "Armed with this knowledge, scaffold workers will be better prepared to protect themselves and the public while effectively doing their jobs."

"The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues to consider scaffold safety one of our highest priorities," said Richard Mendelson, Manhattan Area Director of the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "We look forward to continuing our cooperative efforts with the Department of Buildings and all the Task Force partners in this effort. We are making progress; clearly, more needs to be done."

Of the 13 recommendations adopted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in February 2007 to improve the safety of suspended scaffolds, the Scaffold Safety Task Force has implemented 12 and is currently revamping licensing requirements for riggers, the final recommendation. Since the Task Force began its work, suspended scaffold fatalities have declined significantly from six in 2006 to one in 2007, and the number of suspended scaffold-related accidents has dropped by 40% since 2006.

Since 2002, the Buildings Department has worked aggressively to streamline its processes, improve transparency, and infuse integrity and accountability into the construction process. With new proactive enforcement models being utilized by the Stop Work Order Patrol, the Excavations Team, and the Buildings Enforcement Safety Team, which conducts proactive inspections of construction sites in preparation of inclement weather, Buildings Inspectors are conducting more proactive inspections of construction activity across the five boroughs than at any point in the Department's history. Building on these accomplishments, the Scaffold Safety Team and the expanded Scaffold Safety Task Force will further the Department's mission of ensuring the safe and lawful use of all of New York City's 975,000 buildings and properties.

New Yorkers are encouraged to call 3-1-1 to report non-compliant conditions or 9-1-1 to report emergencies at construction sites. 

Contact:     Kate Lindquist/Carly Sullivan (212) 566-3473