The Investigators: Questions about safety measures

February 4, 2009 6:13:40 PM PST
The crane accident raises some serious questions--not only about safety measures on the construction site--but also about the city buildings department's effectiveness in policing this site and others. The investigators' Jim Hoffer is here now with a more.

In this city, 250 cranes are operating on any given day. It is the Buildings Department that's supposed to make sure they're run safely.

The snapping of this 200-foot, 30 ton crane were told is "rare".

Perhaps, what's becoming all too common though are the deaths and injuries at city construction sites even after warnings are sounded.

Everyday for more than a year, retired engineer Bruce Silberblatt has kept a close watch on the building of the high-rise condos from the 25th floor of his apartment.

"I didn't think this was a healthy situation so I filed complaint using 311," said Bruce Silberblatt.

Eleven days before the crane collapsed, Silberblatt, who spent 30 years constructing apartment buildings, noticed what he thought was a serious problem with the crane.

"It should have had redundancy," said Silberblatt. "It should have had more braces."

This complaint record shows that two days later, a building inspector went to the site and found no problem with the crane and issued no violation.

Mr. Silberblatt's is just one of dozens of complaints filed with buildings about safety concerns at the ill-fated site.

It also had 14 violations and some of them of high severity including failure to have a site manager and storing material dangerously close to the edge. Its most recent violation received just one hour before the crane's collapse.

An inspector placed a stop work order for not filing proper plans for pouring concrete.

The Buildings Department says the number of violations is normal for a site this large.

"Quite frankly, if the buildings commissioner believes that is normal then the buildings commissioner should work elsewhere," said Manhattan Borough president, Scott Stringer.

Hours ago, the buildings commissioner defended her department for its close monitoring of the site.

"Crane experts had visited the site on Friday," said buildings commissioner, Patricia Lancaster. "They found it structurally to have integrity and everything in place."

But earlier this month, the collapse of a vacant building in east Harlem left the buildings commissioner red faced and having to admit that it was declared unsafe weeks before but her agency failed to process the paperwork.

Here, too, earlier complaints warned about a pending collapse. It at all raises serious questions about what's going on inside the buildings department and whether to include among the failures, the city's own safety inspections.

"It's a typical attitude the building department does not pay too much attention to us so called civilians," said Mr. Silberblatt.

Parts of the crane have been sent to a lab for forensic analysis.

There's been nearly a doubling in the number of construction accidents in the city. In the past 12 months, 16 people have been killed in construction related accidents.