Politico is now reporting that the city is on a blitzkrieg, shutting down construction sites in the name of safety:
“Grappling with a growing number of serious accidents at construction sites amid a development boom citywide, the Department of Buildings is increasingly relying on an enforcement tool that halts work at projects deemed unsafe or improperly permitted.
The agency issued 4,580 stop-work orders during the first six months of 2016, compared to 3,738 during the same time last year, according to data maintained by the agency and provided to POLITICO New York. That marks a nearly 23 percent increase in a year. http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/with-eye-to-safety-city-shutting-down-construction-jobs-at-record-rate-104153
The outstanding question here is whether this uptick is a result of the surge of unsafe job sites, or rather the butt covering of inspectors reacting to the spate of serious accidents and fatalities recently. Whatever the case may be the data here is disturbing:
“The enforcement has far outpaced the increase in construction. While the issuance of stop-work orders surged by nearly 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, new construction permits went up 25 percent, agency data shows.”
This disturbing disparity cries out for proper oversight and review in order to determine what is driving this new inspection regime. As BNYC spokesperson Brad Gerstman points out:
“We need the city council to immediately convene and oversight hearing to determine the facts and what’s motivating the newfound zealousness. Over regulation has the potential to really harm one of this city’s most important industries, and we shouldn’t be throwing out the baby with the bathwater if the facts on the ground doesn’t merit such a severe reaction.”
Comments from the DOB commissioner suggest that there might be a political overreaction:
“Chandler said the city has hired an additional 100 inspectors, quadrupled penalties for the most common violations, done sweeps of contractors with spotty histories and begun requiring extra supervision on low-rise construction sites, where most accidents are occurring.
“Our message is simple: don’t cut corners and stay safe, because no building is worth a person’s life…”
In this regard, we agree with Lou Colletti’s response-one that questions the subjectivity of the entire process; and the failure of the department to clarify the rules so that contractors can avoid the stop work orders:
“We feel that many of these stop-work orders are issued on a very subjective basis, and based on individual inspector determinations, rather than policy that would give guidance to the contractors…We were told that they have guidelines and we’ve asked for them and so far we haven’t received them…”
When you have a voluminous and complex building code, with rules subject to varying interpretations, you are opening the doors to punitive regulatory discretion-if the political climate becomes ripe for it. When this happens, construction contractors become targets in a regulatory free fire zone-and it doesn’t matter what their affiliation might be.
This is why BNYC has taken such a strong stand against the criminalization of construction accidents. Adding prosecutorial discretion on top of the discretion that exists in the city’s regulatory regime is a recipe for disaster-and if left unchecked, can put a Big Chill into an industry that is vital to the economic development and job creation in NYC.
BuildingNYC is an association that represents the merit shops that are doing the majority of the building in NYC today, especially affordable housing. Comprised of workers across all sectors of the NYC construction industry, we seek to protect and advocate for the right to work in a safe, fair and equitable environment that promotes continued growth and success. (http://buildingnyc.org/)