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City Conducting Surprise Sweeps of Facade-Repair Projects

Bill Morris in Building Operations on March 4, 2021

New York City

FISP, DOB, facade repairs, fatal accidents, drop rig scaffolding, co-op and condo boards.

A sidewalk shed prevented injury to pedestrians during a fatal scaffolding collapse last summer (picture courtesy WABC-TV).

March 4, 2021

Co-op and condo boards in the midst of mandated facade repairs, beware! The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is conducting surprise sweeps of facade projects to make sure that all work is being performed in compliance with city regulations and the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), formerly known as Local Law 11.

“We have teams of inspectors who will be conducting surprise inspections of 1,100 of these construction sites across the city to ensure that the supervisors and contractors are properly protecting their workers and the public,” says Lisa Wood, deputy press secretary at DOB. “This is part of a larger enforcement and educational campaign targeting construction projects that use suspended scaffold rigs, in an effort to reduce worker injuries and make sure work in New York City is proceeding.”

The inspections will be performed at the following types of buildings: approximately 300 buildings six stories and under (which are exempt from FISP); 500 buildings between seven and 14 stories; and 300 buildings over 14 stories tall.

The sweeps are part of the ongoing tightening of DOB rules and fines following a recent string of fatal accidents. Last summer, the collapse of a suspended scaffold rig at an 11-story Murray Hill building left one worker dead and three hospitalized. A sidewalk shed prevented debris from injuring any pedestrians. In December 2019, a piece of debris from a 17-story building near Times Square broke off and tumbled to the street, hitting a pedestrian in the head and killing her instantly. The building had recently been fined by the city for its unsafe facade. The city’s facade inspection program was born in 1980, the year after a 17-year-old Barnard College student named Grace Gold was killed by a piece of falling masonry near the corner of Broadway and 115th Street. 

The DOB has recently made substantial changes to strengthen FISP, including doubling the size of its facade-inspection unit, requiring more hands-on inspections of buildings over six stories tall, increasing the frequency of DOB follow-up inspections of known unsafe facades, and greatly increasing penalties to building owners for non-compliance.

“We are constantly pushing to establish a culture of safety in this industry,” says DOB Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca. “Through a combination of worker engagement and aggressive enforcement sweeps, our inspection teams will be out in force, sending a clear message that we will not tolerate those who put the safety of our fellow New Yorkers at risk.”

There is also an educational component to the current sweep of 1,100 facade projects. DOB inspectors and staff are distributing safety information to workers; mailing the information to all contractors performing facade work in the city and to 500 Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors, industry professionals who are approved to inspect facades; and mailing information to 100 DOB-approved educators who provide worker-safety training.

Even before it launched the 1,100 surprise inspections of facade projects, the DOB’s inspection unit was performing regular sweeps to ensure that all buildings that have filed unsafe facade inspection reports have installed public protection that is both safe and compliant with city codes. Following the inspections, the DOB will now provide contractors with a checklist of any deficiencies found with regard to scaffolding setup.

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