City to track safety after crane collapses

June 4, 2008 7:07:33 PM PDT
The Bloomberg administration announced its latest set of construction safety recommendations Wednesday after an "unacceptably high" number of deaths this year, proposing a system that would track contractors' safety records and shut down the most serious offenders.Several proposals had been announced in recent weeks as officials hired more buildings inspectors and appointed task forces to try and curb a spate of deadly construction accidents. Sixteen people have died this year, nine of them in two crane collapses over the past three months.

The package unveiled Wednesday included proposals for mandatory crane training for workers who "rig" cranes, an issue that critics said may have contributed to the March 15 crane collapse that killed seven people. No measure directly responded to the apparent failure of a rebuilt crane part that caused a crane to collapse on Friday, killing two workers. City officials said more crane safety proposals would be coming soon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that "closing construction is not an option," but that the city's building boom couldn't compromise New Yorkers' safety.

"This year's unacceptably high number of construction fatalities underscores that we must do more," the mayor said.

The new proposals, announced with leading construction officials and City Council leaders who said they supported them, would require contractors to register and obtain a safety control number before obtaining permits to build. Contractors with "unacceptable" safety records would not be able to do business.

The mayor said issues like the amount of business a contractor has in the city would be a factor in deciding whether to revoke a license. "It's going to be a judgment call, based on how serious the violations are," he said.

The city also proposed allowing the department to assign a safety monitor to projects with poor safety records, raise penalties to $25,000 for violations like a tripping hazard, and fining building owners who don't report structural problems.

Workers on cranes would have to take a 30-hour safety course and be retrained every three years. Another proposal would restrict the use of nylon slings, which were involved in several construction accidents this year.

Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, said the proposals made sense but said the beleaguered buildings department didn't have the staff to execute them.

"You're asking for more inspection, yet we don't have enough inspectors. You're asking for some very serious work that the Buildings Department has never been mandated to do before," he said.

Louis Coletti, president of the Buildings Trades Employers Association, said the construction industry and city had to work harder to restore its previous reputation for safety.

"What's happened in 2008," he said, "is purely unacceptable."