The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) has announced five new construction safety bills and comprehensive updates to NYC’s Construction Codes introduced by the New York City Council. The newly introduced code revisions and safety requirements work in tandem to better protect the public and construction workers on the job, the DOB said in an April 22 statement.
“Life-changing injury or worse should not be the price of an honest day’s work. We are joining our colleagues in the Council to introduce bills that will help protect our fellow New Yorkers on construction sites citywide,” said Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca.
“At the same time, by working with industry experts and stakeholders, our updated codes will make our built environment safer for everyone living and working in our great city. These critical pieces of legislation will help us continue building a safer and fairer New York City for all.”
Construction Safety Legislation
Construction safety efforts spearheaded by DOB, including the implementation of a first-of-its-kind construction safety training requirement, led to a 34% decrease in injuries on building construction sites in New York City from 2018 to 2020. These new bills would help further reduce injuries on construction sites by licensing general contractors who perform construction work, requiring more site safety supervision at larger work sites that present the greatest safety risk, strengthening requirements for cold-formed steel construction, and permanently banning the dangerous use of stand-off brackets for suspended scaffold work.
The five proposed construction safety bills include:
- Requires all general contractors to be licensed by DOB and to demonstrate their experience, including practical experience working in the construction industry, receive site safety training, and be responsible for the work they perform under their permits.
- Allows DOB to take disciplinary action against general contractors, including, if necessary, suspending or revoking a general contractor’s license.
- Drops the threshold to require full-time DOB-Licensed Site Safety Coordinators (SSCs) or Site Safety Managers (SSMs) to seven stories and above.
- Requires contractors to submit Site Safety Plans to DOB for review and approval before work on major projects in the seven to nine story range can commence.
- DOB-Licensed Construction Superintendents would be required to serve full-time alongside SSCs or SSMs at major construction projects starting at seven stories and above and assume responsibility for site safety and overall management of the construction project.
- Limits the number of non-major construction projects for which a Construction Superintendent may be designated, with the goal of having a dedicated Construction Superintendent at non-major construction projects for which they are required by 2026.
- Builds upon a 2019 Buildings Bulletin issued by DOB creating new safety requirements for special inspectors, construction superintendents, design professionals, and permit holders who are performing cold-formed steel light-frame construction work in New York City.
- Aimed at preventing the overloading and improper installation of cold-formed steel, which have previously resulted in injuries, fatalities, and property damage at construction sites in New York City.
- Builds upon a 2019 Buildings Bulletin issued by DOB, which prohibited the use of stand-off brackets for C-hook suspended scaffold installations, by making that prohibition permanent.
Construction Code Revisions
The proposed construction code revisions would be the first comprehensive updates to the current Administrative, Plumbing, Building, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes since 2014. The revisions were drafted by technical committees comprised of engineers, architects, attorneys, planners, tradespeople, representatives of the construction industry, labor, real estate industry, utility companies, as well as DOB and interagency stakeholders.
A total of 627 new or expanded changes to the existing codes are proposed, along with thousands of minor changes. The committee updates were guided by aligning with improved national safety standards and technical advancements since the last revision cycle. When enacted, they would go into effect the following year.
Revision highlights include:
- Emergency Response Enhancements
- Increases the minimum required dimensions of the elevator emergency hatch.
- Permits the use of batteries as the required secondary power source for the FDNY endorsed Auxiliary Radio Communication System (ARCS).
- Expands number of high-rise residential buildings that require emergency voice communication systems.
- Fire Protection Enhancements
- Mandates that whenever exits discharge directly outside and not through a protected area or vestibule, that FDNY access be provided to the exit stairway either from the protected area or within a minimum distance of it.
- Vertical Transportation and Accessibility Enhancements
- Establishes clear compliance criteria for elevator systems to ensure greater accessibility and usability for building occupants with physical and intellectual/developmental disabilities.
- Requires door locking monitoring in all Limited Use/Limited Application lifts (LULA) in order to minimize the risk of people and objects becoming caught.
- Elevator Safety Enhancements
- Requires the same elevator-in-readiness to serve all floors to reduce building evacuation times in the event of an emergency.
- Amends inspection timeframes for elevators and boilers to bring them back into service faster.
- Protecting Tenants, Streamlining Building Occupancy and Promoting Increased Affordable Housing
- Requires new special inspection of buildings undergoing construction to ensure the protection of tenants.
- Clarifies what construction documentation is required to receive a new Certificate of Occupancy (CO).
- Reduces the required 8ft basement clearance height for two-family homes to 7ft to increase affordable housing opportunities.
- Construction Safety Enhancements
- Permits the use of netting, low barriers, and chain link fencing in lieu of requiring only solid fencing that creates blind tunnels for pedestrians.
- Creates a new license type for advanced crane technology, such as articulating boom cranes and roto-telehandlers, to ensure these cranes are operated in a safe manner.
- Improves the safety and consistency of the underpinning of existing buildings.
- Building System Construction and Inspection Enhancements
- Require smoke tests for special gas vents to ensure the safety of building occupants.
- Require all pipes, tubings, and fittings in the mechanical system to comply with the applicable reference safety standard.
- Codifies maintenance, condition assessment, and reporting requirements for parking structures.
- Sustainability and Resiliency Enhancements
- Expands the applicability of flood zone requirements of the 100-year flood hazard area to all critical facilities (including fire, rescue, ambulance, police stations, and designated emergency shelters) located in the 500-year flood zone.
- Mandates annual visual inspections of dry floodproofing systems and triennial full-scale deployment of dry floodproofing in the presence of a special inspection agency.
- Permits and supports the use of alternative energy production processes, including hydrogen fuel cells.
- Increases the material choices available to builders by expanding the use of sustainable building materials such as cross-laminated timber and structural composite lumber.
DOB says it will support the code implementation updates with training and outreach regarding the new requirements, and adjust our internal operations as needed.
“The FDNY – in particular, the dedicated members of our Bureau of Fire Prevention – worked closely with the Department of Buildings throughout this code revision process with the critical shared goal of reducing death and injuries at construction sites and further improving safety in our city,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “Thanks to the extensive efforts of all involved, these revisions will bring significant improvements to the city’s fire protection, emergency response, and construction regulations, helping to ensure the safety of New Yorkers and our members who respond to thousands of emergencies each day.”
“Since 2017, Local Law 196 has served a crucial role in keeping construction workers safe by enhancing training and site safety awareness at construction sites across the five boroughs,” Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said in a statement. “This slate of new construction safety bills and the proposed expansion of the construction safety codes are very encouraging developments that continue to build upon and strengthen the existing law. We look forward to continuing to work with the New York City Department of Buildings to ensure that safety in the construction industry is always paramount.”
“The contractor community, in partnership with the Department of Buildings, continues to create the world-class conditions whereby craft professionals across the boroughs can do their job well and in a safe, structured environment,” said Brian Sampson, President, Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. “This new set of safety bills will continue our commitment to making sure that New York City has the highest standards for licensed professionals and safety practices in the construction industry.”