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Dive Brief:

  • During its first five days of actively enforcing new COVID-19 safety protocols, New York City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) issued 88 citations, including 41 stop work orders, at construction sites throughout the city, a DOB spokesperson told Construction Dive.
  • DOB used Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, which integrates compliance data with interactive mapping tools, to efficiently route hundreds of inspectors to each of the city’s 40,000 jobsites multiple times since the pandemic began, often at the behest of citizens who reported potential violations. 
  • New York City residents lodged 6,127 complaints against contractors for potential COVID-19 jobsite safety protocol violations since March 30, using the city’s nonemergency 311 phone system, the spokesperson said. 

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Dive Insight:

DOB, construction workers and New Yorkers are all working to make sure COVID-19 safety protocols are observed at the city’s construction sites, and actual compliance has been relatively high, said Andrew Rudansky, press secretary for DOB.

“A large chunk of the construction industry was really paying attention to what New York City went through the past couple months, and took the pandemic and trying to slow the spread of the pandemic very seriously,” he said.

Aside from stepped-up inspections, Rudansky said a major thrust of DOB’s enforcement came from citizens calling in potential violations, ranging from reports of workers not following social distancing or personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines, to work continuing at nonessential construction sites during April and May, when it was prohibited. 

“We have been relying on our 311 system to get inspectors to the scene of places that might not be compliant,” said Rudansky. “Whether it’s a worker who’s concerned about safety on the jobsite, or a neighbor who might think a jobsite isn’t following COVID-19 protocols and is worried about the potential spread in their neighborhood, we certainly are getting those 311 complaints in, and we’re responding to them.”

Beginning June 8, when work at nonessential jobsites was allowed to resume throughout the city, DOB implemented a new set of mandatory health and sanitation regulations for work sites, including new rules for face coverings, social distancing, cleaning protocols, educational signage and recordkeeping, Rudansky said.

The department allowed for a 30-day grace period for sites to become compliant after reopening. During that timespan, inspectors found instances of:

  • Too many workers riding hoists together.
  • Small spaces for ingress or egress that forced workers to be in close contact while entering or leaving a site, such as stairways.
  • Large gatherings at lunchtime or during tool talk meetings.
  • Inadequate logs and recordkeeping on worker interactions (to be used for contact tracing later if someone becomes ill).
  • Insufficient tracking of onsite cleaning.

When inspectors saw those kinds of infractions in June, they reached out to supervisors with guidance and educational materials, Rudansky said. Starting July 8, however, he said DOB began enforcing the new rules, with initial civil penalties of $5,000 for each offense, and $10,000 for subsequent violations. It issued its initial 88 citations from July 8 through July 13.

“We have our inspectors out in force,” Rudansky said. 

But New York City contractors should take heed that even if they aren’t visited by a DOB inspector, the city’s 8.6 million residents are keeping a watchful eye on their work practices, too.

“It has been encouraging,” Rudansky said. “Workers on site and members of the public have really collaborated with us to let us know if a site might be a problem.”

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