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Construction Industry: NYC Regulations Go Too Far

Fri November 21, 2008 - Northeast Edition

ise a crane in New York City these days.

Since two cranes toppled in Manhattan this year, killing nine people, documents required for crane operation include signoffs by engineers before cranes are raised or dismantled; maintenance records; operator certification tests; and papers proving that a safety meeting has been held before any work begins.

The spate of deadly accidents in New York and other U.S. cities this year, including Houston, Miami and Las Vegas, triggered an update in September of the federal government’s crane regulations for the first time in 40 years.

New York, one of a handful of cities with its own regulations, has sought to become a leading national example, hosting a crane safety conference last month and unveiling dozens of new rules intended to encourage accountability and prevent accidents.

But the city’s construction industry says the rules have become too unwieldy to follow, are hard to enforce and often cause costly delays. Contractors say construction sites are often shut down for days or weeks for minor violations, like a missing piece of paperwork or a messy site. A shutdown at a high-profile site can run a contractor or developer over $100,000 a day.

“In some respects, it’s already overkill,’’ said Louis Coletti, president of New York’s Building Trades Employers Association. “You’ve got new rules and regulations coming out every day.’’

Since the March 15 and May 30 crane accidents, the city has passed laws that require a 30-hour training course for tower crane workers, limit the use of nylon slings that hold construction loads, mandate regular safety meetings before raising or lowering the cranes, and overhaul licensing requirements for mobile crane operators.

The city Department of Buildings says its new inspection protocols shouldn’t get in the way of contractors who are running safe sites.

“We have worked closely with industry officials to develop checks and balances that are making construction sites safer than ever before,’’ department spokesperson Kate Lindquist said. “There are thousands of construction sites in New York City that are managed without incident every day, and there is no reason why developers cannot build safely to avoid any preventable delays.’’

Work shut down for months at the city’s worst accident sites. A crane still hasn’t returned to the high-rise tower being built in midtown Manhattan, where a crane crashed into a townhouse on March 15, killing six construction workers and a tourist staying in the townhouse.

A crane at the site of the May 30 collapse that killed two construction workers was not re-erected until September. A stop-work order was issued at that site a week ago because a hoist platform lacked a proper permit.

A December crane accident also shut down work for months where Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s new headquarters is being built across from the World Trade Center site.

Coletti said the stop work orders often are issued “for reasons that are not necessarily related to safety.’’ Contractors might also get orders from four separate inspection squads with conflicting interpretations of building codes, and finding an inspector to return the site to lift a stop-work order can be as challenging as fixing the violation in the first place, he said.

The requirement for engineers or manufacturers to officially certify plans to raise tower cranes has prompted the most vehement opposition. Contractors say professionals would not be likely to sign off on plans when they can’t oversee the work that follows.

Alfred G. Gerosa, executive director of the Cement League, whose members often contract out crane work, said in a letter in September that the rule could “shut down the entire tower crane industry in the city.’’

National union officials, who supervise crane operator tests, also are concerned about a national association taking over testing of operators of smaller cranes, and perhaps all the city’s operators. A national certification test was a key proposal of the new federal requirements, but New York City and the state still require separate tests.

The city says the regulations are standard across other parts of the construction industry and are necessary to ensure safety.

“I’m for regulations,’’ countered Frank Bardonaro, president of a suburban Philadelphia crane rental company and head of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association’s crane safety task force. “The city of New York is trying maybe to … almost overregulate.’’

Philadelphia passed its own regulations this summer that Bardonaro says puts most of the burden on crane owners and riggers. New York’s rules, he said, put too much pressure on the government.

“Are you going to test every bolt, nut, bracing?’’ Bardonaro asked. “What the city has put together is almost unenforceable.’’

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