On Sepember 13th, 2021, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) shared the results of their “Zero Tolerance” campaign, a three-month long series of safety enforcement sweeps conducted at construction sites across the city. The campaign aimed at identifying dangerous conditions on constructions sites that put both workers and the public at risk.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 23,000 city construction jobs were lost, accounting for more than half of the industry’s statewide job losses. The Zero Tolerance campaign was announced as non-essential construction work began returning to NYC in 2021. At a city council subcommittee hearing on Monday, DOB Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca said, “As New York City recovers from COVID-19 and the construction industry gets back to work, we must continue to prioritize safety.”
With the goal of enhancing oversight and accountability on job sites, DOB inspectors visited about 7,500 construction sites throughout all five boroughs. These 7,500 Zero Tolerance sweeps were done in addition to hundreds of thousands of routine inspections done throughout the year. According to a DOB press release, the campaign’s safety sweeps resulted in more than 3,600 issued violations and nearly 1,500 stop work orders.
It is important to note that from January 1st to June 1st of this year, the date when the Zero Tolerance campaign began, there were seven building construction fatalities reported in the city. Since the beginning of the three-month campaign, no construction related fatalities were reported. It is clear that increased pressure to adhere to safety regulations generally results in improved safety for workers; strict enforcement of regulations is crucial. Hopefully, this trend will continue as the DOB plans to follow up this campaign with continued inspections of certain sites that were issued “egregious” safety violations.
According to reports, the DOB will push to enact new construction safety legislation, including five new safety bills, to further improve job site safety. If enacted, one of the proposed bills would create a licensing requirement for general contractors performing construction work. As explained by DOB Press Secretary Andrew Rudansky, “In NYC, you need a license to cut hair as a barber, but you don’t need a license to construct a tower. This bill would change that.”
The additional safety bills would:
- Require increased safety supervision at larger work sites that are seven stories and higher
- Strengthen safety requirements for cold-formed steel light-frame construction work
- Permanently ban the use of dangerous stand-off brackets for suspended scaffold work.
It is encouraging to see site safety take priority as the construction industry recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As said by Council Member Robert F. Holden, “We can’t move our city into the future without protecting the safety of those who build it. Safety bills are useless without enforcement…” The only way to protect our city’s construction workers is by holding negligent parties, whether they are contractors, subcontractors, site owners, etc., accountable for any unsafe conditions that place their workers at risk for serious injury. All construction workers have the legal right to a safe workplace.