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PR- 277-08
July 16, 2008


130 Liberty Street Fire is Catalyst for Comprehensive Review of Agency Operations

Recommendations Include New Permit Requirements, New Central Negative Air Cutoff, Changes to Rules for Standpipes, Cross-training for City Inspectors

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced a series of changes in the way demolition and abatement operations are regulated and carried out in New York City. The changes are outlined in a report, Strengthening the Safety, Oversight and Coordination of Construction, Demolition and Abatement Operations, that was presented to the Mayor by a working group led by Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler. There are 33 specific recommendations in the report designed to strengthen agencies’ inspection practices, increase notifications and data-sharing between agencies, and improve the safety of abatement and demolition operations. The report re-orients agency enforcement efforts to focus on a shared set of fire- and life-safety concerns, regardless of which City agency is working at a site. The Mayor was joined at the announcement by Deputy Mayor Skyler, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Acting Buildings Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri, Department of Environmental Protection  Deputy Commissioner Robert C. Avaltroni, and Cas Holloway, Special Advisor to the Mayor and Chief of Staff to Deputy Mayor Skyler.

“Asbestos abatement, construction and demolition work have their own inherent risks, especially when they intersect,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “After months of exhaustive analysis and review, the group I asked Ed Skyler to convene to review this issue developed 33 recommendations to strengthen agency practices and improve safety, and today, I am accepting them in full.”

“Instead of focusing narrowly on the regulatory roles of particular agencies, we looked broadly at all the component parts of construction, demolition and abatement, to assess these operations in terms of the overarching priority of public safety,” said Deputy Mayor Skyler. “After an exhaustive review, we have found 33 specific ways to improve safety for first responders, workers and all New Yorkers, and at the Mayor’s direction, we will implement all of them as quickly as possible.”

“While we made several key improvements in our inspection program immediately after the tragic deaths of Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, we also needed this multi-agency review to address the myriad issues surrounding abatement and demolition work,” said Fire Commissioner Scoppetta. “This comprehensive report contains substantive changes that will not only improve safety for our firefighters, but for the public and the workers performing this type of work.”

“With these recommendations we are setting a new standard of safety for construction, demolition and abatement operations throughout the City,” said Acting Buildings Commissioner LiMandri. “This report combines the efforts of the Buildings Department, the FDNY and DEP to achieve one unifying goal - better protecting the public, construction workers and first responders. Through increased safety measures and inter-agency communication, we will accomplish that goal.”

“Although the vast majority of abatement jobs in New York City occur without incident, it is our job to see that all of these operations are carried out safely manner possible,” said DEP Deputy Commissioner Robert Avaltroni. “Implementing these recommendations will improve how abatement operations are conducted, and the way DEP does its job.”

Last fall, a working group of City agencies began its review of the regulation of demolition and abatement operations, agency practices regarding enforcement, and the way these operations are carried out in the field. The working group draws members from the Departments of Buildings (DOB), Environmental Protection (DEP), and Fire (FDNY) as well as from the Mayor’s Office of Operations and the Law Department.

In New York City, the Buildings Department issues permits for building construction and demolition, and Buildings and the Fire Department conduct inspections of construction and demolition sites. The Department of Environmental Protection regulates and inspects asbestos abatement. The recommendations developed by the working group address each of these areas. The City has already begun to implement some of the recommendations in the report immediately, and will work with industry stake holders and others to implement all 33 recommendations as quickly as possible. The recommendations fall into three groups: abatement operations; demolition operations; and inspections conducted by FDNY, DEP and DOB.

Abatement Operations

Each year, approximately 5,000 asbestos abatement jobs take place in New York City. Some consist only of abatements, and some are undertaken in connection with other construction or demolition work. Abatement is regulated by DEP under their Asbestos Control Program, pursuant to State and Federal regulation. Abatement must take place in a controlled work area, and large jobs require the establishment of a containment area, including decontamination enclosure systems, negative air pressure, isolation barriers, and sealing with plastic sheeting.

Large or complex abatement jobs can impact fire safety, and the report recommends that DEP should formally notify DOB and FDNY of any abatement jobs of a certain size or complexity. The report also recommends that DEP establish a permit requirement for large or complex abatement jobs, to ensure that the work plan is reviewed for public safety and construction issues.

The report also recommends that materials used for partitions, wall surfaces, and plastic sheeting in abatement jobs be fire-retardant, and that negative air pressure systems (required at large job sites to ensure that no asbestos fibers escape) be equipped with a central “cut-off switch” so the systems can be turned off quickly in an emergency. Under certain fire conditions, negative air units can change the dynamics of normal fire and smoke movement, and can “pull” fire and smoke to floors below a fire.

The working group also found that DEP inspectors, while highly skilled and expert at locating violations that could threaten the integrity of a containment area, are not trained in enforcing the Fire and Building codes. Accordingly, the report recommends that DEP inspections should include inspection of egress and other fire-safety requirements. The report also calls for granting inspectors the power to enforce the Fire and Building Codes at abatement sites.

The report also recommends that DEP amend its rules to establish a policy that strictly limits simultaneous abatement and demolition work. When permitted, the report further recommends that stringent criteria be met before simultaneous abatement and demolition work is allowed, and that DEP, DOB, and FDNY should be responsible for jointly monitoring these operations until they are complete.

Demolition Operations

DOB has the primary responsibility for regulating demolitions in New York City and since 2002, DOB has issued approximately 5,000 demolition permits per year. Under current law, demolition activity requires a DOB permit, and FDNY is required under its rules to inspect construction and demolition sites every 15 days. Until late last year, FDNY did not receive formal notification from DOB that a construction or demolition permit had been issued at a particular site. The report recommends that DOB formally notify FDNY whenever a demolition permit is issued, and that a second notification should be made when DOB is alerted that demolition will actually commence.

The report contains a series of recommendations regarding standpipe systems in use at construction and demolition sites, including that Site-Safety Managers conduct daily checks of standpipe connections, and a weekly “tracing” of the standpipe to ensure that it has not been breached. The report also recommends requiring uniform color-coding of standpipe and sprinkler system lines, that a pressure test of standpipe systems be required every 75 feet for buildings under construction, and that FDNY and DOB study the feasibility of requiring a pressurized standpipe alarm system at new or major projects.

While the new Fire Code bans smoking at all construction and demolition sites and requires prominent placement of no-smoking signs, the new Building Code does not directly include a prohibition of smoking during construction or demolition operations. Accordingly, the report recommends strengthening the smoking ban at construction, demolition and abatement sites through strict enforcement by the FDNY of the no smoking provision in the Fire Code, and by the creation of a new DOB rule to ban smoking in all areas within a construction or demolition site.

Construction Site Inspections

Currently, the FDNY, the Buildings Department, and the Department of Environmental Protection perform inspections largely independent of each other: FDNY concentrates on fire-safety concerns; DOB focuses on building and construction site issues; and DEP monitors air quality concerns at asbestos abatement sites. To integrate their work and make this process more effective, the report recommends that all three agencies prioritize their inspections according to certain risk factors - like a contractor’s history of violations or the size and occupancy of a construction site.
The report also recommends that DEP, DOB, and the FDNY incorporate each other’s primary safety concerns to create a baseline set of common protocols for all inspections, regardless of which agency’s inspector is at a particular site.

The report also recommends changes to FDNY’s inspection processes. Firefighters in every Engine and Ladder Company in the Fire Department are responsible for inspecting all commercial, public, industrial, and multiple dwelling buildings within their respective administrative districts on a cyclical basis, depending on various risk factors associated with the buildings. The Fire Department also employs approximately 350 civilian inspectors who are responsible for inspecting premises throughout the City to detect violations of law, rules and regulations.

Immediately after the fire at 130 Liberty Street, FDNY conducted an internal review of its uniformed inspection program and made a number of significant changes, including the implementation of a third inspection period each week for every field unit of uniformed inspectors.

A City rule requires that buildings under construction or demolition be inspected at least every 15 days. In November 2007, the Fire Department decided that it was not operationally effective to meet that requirement, and those buildings under construction or demolition that are less than 75 feet in height are now inspected every 30 days.

The report recommends that the Fire Department develop an automated, computer-based system that facilitates the sharing of inspection data throughout the agency, as well as with DOB and DEP. The Fire Department is redesigning its inspection systems, to create a single, comprehensive database containing all FDNY-related information about each individual building in the City of New York. This new Business Intelligence System will eventually incorporate historical data, and replace some current data storage and tracking systems in FDNY, which were created at different times to collect information for different purposes.

The working group also reviewed safety issues in so-called “non-jurisdictional” properties that are neither privately owned nor City owned. Examples of non-jurisdictional properties are those owned by New York State, the Federal government, or international entities. The report recommends that the City pursue a single standard of safety for all property owners within New York City, including non-jurisdictional entities. At the same time that this single standard is pursued, the report recommends the City work with the non-jurisdictional entities to establish a process to enable inspections and enhance code-compliance.

In addition to reviewing the abatement, demolition, and FDNY inspections operations, the working group also reviewed the publicly available information about these processes. The working group found there is not a consistent source of available information across all relevant topics. The report recommends that DOB and DEP, in conjunction with FDNY, update their websites and publications to provide thorough descriptions about these processes, including links to the other agencies’ websites where appropriate. Additionally, DEP and DOB, with FDNY input, should determine whether to develop additional guides to ensure the proper conduct of these operations and make these documents easily accessible to the public.

The 33 recommendations in the report are:

Abatement Operations

  1. DEP should regularly notify FDNY and DOB about large and/or complex abatement jobs that meet thresholds to be determined by DEP, FDNY, and DOB.

  2. DEP should establish a permit requirement for certain large and/or complex abatement jobs based on thresholds to be determined by DEP, DOB, and FDNY.

  3. DEP should require building owners and/or air monitors on abatement jobs to notify DEP when abatement work at a particular site is complete.

  4. DEP should promulgate clear guidance to contractors about how to maintain proper egress at abatement sites and enforce this requirement in the field.

  5. DEP should require that egress conditions be recorded daily in the abatement contractor’s logbook and kept on site.

  6. DEP should require that all materials used in the construction of temporary enclosures for abatement work be non-combustible or flame-resistant.

  7. DEP should require the installation of a central negative air “cut-off switch” or similar mechanism at abatement jobs that meet thresholds to be established by DEP, FDNY, and DOB.

  8. DEP should develop written protocols, such as a checklist or other guidance, to ensure that its inspections are comprehensive and consistent at all abatement jobs.

  9. DEP inspectors should be trained to inspect and address egress and other safety requirements at abatement sites.

  10. DEP should have the authority to enforce provisions of the Fire and Building Codes at abatement sites, including issuing Notices of Violation and other penalties.

  11. DOB should make permanent its capacity to have inspectors and other personnel respond to abatement sites-based on criteria to be established by DOB, DEP and FDNY-to augment DEP and FDNY inspections at a particular site. DOB inspectors and other responders must have proper training and personal protective equipment to do this job.

  12. DEP should formally establish a policy that strictly limits simultaneous abatement and demolition work, and requires a variance-including review by DOB and FDNY-to undertake it.

    Demolition Operations

  13. DOB should issue full demolition permits only after an applicant certifies that the site does not need to be abated, or that abatement is complete.

  14. DOB should amend its rules and/or seek legislation to increase permitting requirements for all building demolitions using hand-held mechanical devices, including the submission by an engineer of means and methods used and detailed mechanical equipment calculations and details.

  15. DOB should notify FDNY whenever a construction or demolition permit is issued.

  16. DOB should amend its rules and/or seek legislation to require additional site safety coordinators at certain stages of the demolition process for buildings that are 25 stories or more, and at demolition jobs over 500,000 square feet, regardless of height.

  17. DOB should require that Site Safety Managers conduct daily checks of standpipe connections and valves, and a weekly tracing of the standpipe to verify that it has not been breached.

  18. DOB should amend its rules and/or seek legislation to require uniform color-coding of standpipe and sprinkler system lines.

  19. DOB should amend its rules and/or seek legislation to require a plumbing or fire-suppression license and a permit to cut and cap standpipes or sprinklers during full demolition.

  20. FDNY and DOB should study the feasibility of requiring the installation of a pressurized standpipe alarm system (or other security measures) on new building and full demolition jobs.

  21. DOB should amend its rules and/or seek legislation to require pressure testing by a licensed plumber or fire suppression contractor of every 75 feet of standpipe in buildings under construction.

  22. The Citywide smoking ban at construction, demolition and abatement sites should be strengthened and enforced with a zero-tolerance approach.

    Inspection Processes at DOB, DEP and FDNY

  23. DOB, FDNY, and DEP should review their inspection criteria and make changes to ensure that, to the extent possible, inspections are prioritized on the basis of risk.

  24. DOB, FDNY, and DEP should create common safety protocols incorporating high-priority safety issues within the inspection capacity of all three agencies, and should cross-train inspectors to address these common safety issues.

  25. DOB, FDNY, and DEP should implement a system to share relevant results of inspections of buildings that meet agreed-upon criteria. As part of this effort, FDNY should develop a computer-based process to share inspection data internally and with DOB and DEP.

  26. DOB, FDNY, and DEP should review their inspection programs to ensure that they have sufficiently robust quality assurance controls in place.

  27. DOB should identify “high-risk” alteration sites and develop an appropriate inspection program; FDNY should determine whether and how frequently these high-risk alteration sites should be inspected.

    FDNY Demolition Inspections

  28. FDNY should amend Rule 11-01 and other inspection requirements to establish the appropriate frequency and scope of demolition inspections by the Department.

  29. FDNY should incorporate inspections of buildings under demolition that take place every 30 days or at any higher frequency into its Building Inspection Safety Program (“BISP”) Tracking System.

  30. FDNY should develop an automated, computer-based system that facilitates the sharing of inspection data throughout the agency, as well as with DOB and DEP. The Department should also accelerate its transition from paper-based to computer-based data collection and storage for inspections and other processes.

  31. FDNY should streamline its process for referring non-emergency conditions to DOB.

  32. DOB, DEP and FDNY should update their websites and publications to provide comprehensive and coordinated guidance about the construction, demolition and abatement processes, including how to file for and conduct these operations safely, and the regulatory schemes that are triggered by these operations.

    Non-Jurisdictional Buildings

  33. The City should pursue state and federal legislation to require that any building built or demolished in New York City is subject to the City’s Building and Fire Codes, regardless of owner. Until that requirement is in place, the City should seek to enter into agreements with Federal, State and international building owners to allow DOB and FDNY to conduct inspections and assure code compliance so that these agencies have critical information about conditions at these properties that could affect public safety.


Stu Loeser / Jason Post   (212) 788-2958

Francis X. Gribbon   (Fire Department)
(718) 999-2056

Tony Sclafani   (Department of Buildings)
(212) 566-3473

Mike Saucier   (Department of Environmental Protection)
(718) 595-6600

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