According to the New York Times, there were 231 construction accidents in New York City in 2014 and eight of those accidents resulted in deaths. Safety has long been a concern with Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, but those concerns have been elevated lately due to the dramatic rise in construction activity.
Lately, the concern over construction accidents has shifted to the large cranes that are scattered throughout the city. A recent crane accident has caused a change in city regulations that has many contractors complaining loudly. The accident and response by the city could be an indication of just how far out of control construction safety is getting.
The Crawler Crane Incident
In February 2016, a crawler crane tipped over while it was trying to bring down its boom in a wind storm. The accident spurred immediate action from Mayor de Blasio who ordered that all cranes be secured when there are sustained winds of 20 MPH or more. Contractors responded by complaining that the new regulation unnecessarily disrupts job progress and is causing companies to lose money.
The primary issue contractors have is that the 20 MPH threshold is 10 MPH less than the previous standard. Contractors state that 20 MPH winds happen often in NYC, and that the crane’s are rated to be able to withstand winds of at least 20 MPH and more. But the mayor will not budge, and the problem appears to be coming to a head.
The Special Committee On Construction Safety
Immediately after the accident occurred, Mayor de Blasio put together a special committee on construction safety that eventually handed down the 20 MPH rule. The problem contractors have with the committee is that it did not contain any crane experts, and that is why the decision was unfair.
The mayor’s office indicated that the lack of crane experts was on purpose to prevent any one company’s financial interests from influencing the committee’s decisions. But contractors continue to counter with the question of how a committee without crane experts can be allowed to make decisions that affect crane use.
Public Safety Concerns
There are public safety concerns on both sides of this discussion. The City Department of Buildings maintains that these new safety measures will protect the public from the potential for crane accidents within the city. The Department of Buildings also concedes that there needs to be a more technical assessment of this situation to create long-term solutions that protect contractors and the public.
The February 5, 2016 crane accident killed a 38-year-old New York City resident, and contractors protested that the constant raising and lowering of large cranes in the city would present the potential for even more deadly accidents. According to contractors, in at least 50 percent of workdays in the last two years there were instances of 20 mile per hour per hour winds that sustained for at least two minutes. Contractors contend that it is extremely difficult to constantly raise and lower cranes to accommodate the new regulations with a high level of safety.
Other Contractor Concerns
According to Construction Dive, the concerns raised by contractors are based on more than just economic factors. One contractor pointed out that constantly raising and lowering crane booms based on the weather conditions opens up the possibility of more accidents and more fatalities. Some contractors contend that the constant need to raise and lower booms creates a safety concern far greater than the possibility that another crane accident like the one that happened in February would occur again.
As the discussion rages on, there are cooler heads that are trying to bring a rational point of view to this incident. The financial effects of having to constantly shut down and start up cranes based on the shifting weather have been creating problems for contractors all over the city. However, it may be best to look at the new law as a temporary solution to this problem and start investigating a permanent measure that can help bring safety to NYC construction sites.
The Next Step
The de Blasio administration says that it will leave the final recommendation for new guidelines up to another committee of industry experts being formed. However, with the number of building permits in all five boroughs going up year after year, many experts are saying that something has to be done soon to protect workers and the public.
When a construction worker falls in a building, the unfortunate tragedy is able to be contained. But when a crane drops an air conditioning unit weighing thousands of pounds to the street below, that is when a lot of people can be hurt. It is those types of accidents the city is trying to prevent along with all construction accidents, but the process of containing this recent crane issue could be detrimental to the booming construction industry that NYC is relying on for its growth, and to employ thousands of people all year round.