Are there enough crane inspectors in NYC?

March 21, 2008 4:14:01 PM PDT
There are disturbing new questions about the safety of cranes at construction sites in Manhattan.On Thursday, a building inspector was arrested for allegedly falsifying records. He claims he had inspected the crane on the East Side two weeks before it crashed, but allegedly never did.

The question now is are there enough qualified inspectors to make sure construction sites are safe?

The Investigators' Jim Hoffer has some answers.

The falsification of records, city officials insist, had no impact on the crane collapse. But some argue it is a symptom of a broken system where serious complaints get short shrift and greedy builders cut-corners.

"I was shocked and dismayed," Bruce Silberblatt said.

Silberblatt, a retired contractor, says it's getting harder to believe city leaders about the safety of the cranes that fill the skyline when inspection records are being falsified.

"You really do not know anymore, and we are very concerned," he said.

Silberblatt filed a complaint about the ill-fated crane being unstable just 11 days before its collapse. But court documents say the inspector never checked the crane and instead falsified records, indicating it was OK.

"The fact is that that just undermines anybody's confidence in the inspection system," Silberblatt said.

Was the inspector just being lazy? Or did he falsify records because he was overwhelmed by a construction boom that has too few inspectors chasing down too many complaints?

Hoffer: "Do you think there are enough building inspectors to ensure these sites are safe?"
Construction Worker: "I would say no. You have a lot of buildings going up right now, and I think we need more inspectors."

Complaints to the Department of Buildings are on the rise, from about 117,3650 in 2006 to nearly 134,611 last year. There are 390 inspectors.

"It's not just the number of inspectors, but are they being trained?" Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. "Some of these inspectors are not certified. So even if they go to a site, they don't know what they're doing."

Add to the lack of oversight a system of self-certification, an honor system that allows developers and engineers to certify their own construction plans without getting inspector verification.

"I think it is dangerous," Silberblatt said. "It is like the wolf taking care of the chicken coop."

There is a growing call for sweeping changes in the way building's inspects construction projects. It is also worth noting that city-wide re-inspection continues and has already led to the shutdown of one site where inspectors found someone other than the certified operator behind the controls of a crane.