There are 349 miles of scaffolding in the city, but the city Buildings Department has for years allowed companies that erect the equipment to do their own safety inspections.
That would change with a proposed bill to be introduced Thursday by a group of City Council members.
Citing a series of scaffolding collapses that injured New Yorkers, the council members are proposing legislation to require regular city inspections of the structures in all five boroughs. At least 12 and as many as 30 people have been injured in collapses in the past two years, according to sources and media accounts.
Scaffolding fell with several injuries according to FDNY. Brooklyn, NY April 14, 2018 (Kevin C Downs for New York Daily News)
Under the bill, scaffolding that’s been up for a year or more would get a visit from city inspectors, and then visits every subsequent three months — both at the expense of the owner. Another provision of the bill increases fines for violations, giving private industry an incentive to finish its facade work or construction more quickly. The fines would increase from $175 to $1,000.
“Scaffolding is there to protect us from falling buildings, but what’s going to protect us from falling scaffolding,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “With scaffolding falling throughout our city, scaffolding companies have proven that they can’t be trusted to self-certify anymore. Department of Buildings must inspect every scaffold when it goes up to ensure that it will actually keep us safe.”
Nearby buildings were evacuated after a partial interior and scaffold collapse at 21 Park Place in Manhattan on Friday December 21, 2018. (Theodore Parisienne for New York Daily News)
Kallos cited seven scaffolding collapses dating back to February 2017 that resulted in either property damage or injury. In addition, the council members say companies often put up the scaffolding and then drag their feet on the actual work, leaving the metal structure in place sometimes for years.
“It’s bad enough that we regularly see scaffolding staying up for years, apparently unused. But when it is used, we can’t even be sure it will serve its purpose and keep us safe,” State Senator Liz Krueger said.”Clearly, the self-certification process is not sufficient.”
Added New York City Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel: “The unprecedented development around New York City is at a rapid pace. Longstanding scaffolding has created public safety issues.”
Council Member Margaret Chin said there needs to be an incentive to reduce how long scaffolding remains in place. “This will lead to a vast improvement of quality of life across our city, as repairs will be done in a timely manner leading to fewer shadows on our streets and other issues associated with perpetual scaffolding,” she said.
“We share the council member’s desire to reduce the number of sidewalk sheds around the city and look forward to reviewing this legislation once it’s introduced,” a DOB spokesman said.
Later Wednesday, a spokesman said there’s been nine incidents involving sidewalk sheds over the last three years that weren’t the result of some outside impact, mostly cars. Six of the nine incidents were “minor,” like a wooden board falling off the top of the shed, the spokesman said.