Construction safety oversight still falls short: comptroller

DiNapoli audit calls for proactive inspections, better staffing at Department of Buildings

DiNapoli to NYC Buildings Department: Do More on Safety
From left: New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Department of Buildings commissioner Jimmy Oddo (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty and NYC Buildings)

More than a year after an initial audit, the state comptroller still sees plenty of room for improvement in the Department of Buildings’ safety practices.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli followed up an audit published in September 2022, Crain’s reported, and found some progress had been made, but the agency was still falling short on construction-site safety.

One step the comptroller initially recommended was more frequent meetings with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Department of Buildings heeded the suggestion, but the content of those meetings is unclear, and OSHA was unaware of five construction incidents from September 2022 to last March.

After the first review, the comptroller also called on Commissioner James Oddo’s department to proactively inspect construction sites involving contractors with histories of safety penalties or accidents. That happened a couple of times, according to the report, but the department still largely conducted inspections based on project due dates.

Staffing is also an issue at Buildings, as it is for much of city government. The agency’s unit in charge of inspections has lost 61 percent of its manpower in two years.

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Another criticism was that the agency still isn’t doing enough to penalize contractors who fail to demonstrate improvement of unsafe conditions after receiving a summons. The agency typically waits about 80 days before issuing a violation if a contractor hasn’t responded to a summons.

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The department is hamstrung by a recent law limiting violations on construction of one-to-four-family homes.

The comptroller said Buildings “needs to hold contractors and property owners accountable for fixing dangerous construction sites that put workers, and the public, at risk, and better use its data to identify those sites that are at risk.”

Department of Buildings spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said the agency would “continue using every tool at our disposal to promote safer work sites,” noting that there were four fewer construction-related fatalities in 2023 than the year before.

Holden Walter-Warner

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