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Sweeping new construction safety, building code revisions unveiled

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.

“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.

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:

1) Intro. 2278: Licensing General Contractors  

  • 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.  

2) Intro. 2263: Requiring DOB-Licensed Safety Professionals on Major Construction Work Sites Between 7 – 9 Stories

  • 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. 

3) Intro 2276: Requiring DOB-Licensed Construction Superintendents on Major Construction Work Sites Seven Stories and Above

  • 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.   

4) Intro. 2264: Strengthening Requirements For Cold-Formed Steel Construction 

  • 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.     

5) Intro. 2262: Banning Stand-Off Brackets  

  • 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.  

To support the implementation of the code updates, DOB will conduct training and outreach regarding the new requirements, and adjust our internal operations as needed. 

“Code Revision is a complicated and meticulous process that affects a diverse group of stakeholders across the city and the Department of Buildings managed a holistic, well organized and inclusive effort,” said DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. “Important updates to the plumbing code, green infrastructure protections and construction protocols are included in the revisions to improve safety and the quality of life in the five boroughs.”  

“These proposals will make the public and workers safer while supporting the construction industry and the important projects the City relies on,” said NYC Department of Design and Construction Commissioner Jamie Torres-Springer. “DOB’s newest proposals will ensure even greater safety on DDC construction sites and constructions sites citywide, and we’ve been pleased to work with DOB on these important reforms.” 

GARY LABARBERA

“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,” said Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “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 & 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. “ 

“The Construction Safety Advisory Committee of New York applauds the Department of Buildings for working closely with construction industry stakeholders and licensed site safety professionals to craft new legislation that promotes safety and seeks to protect workers and the public,” said Jim Bifulco, President of CSACNY. “Together, with Site Safety Training required by Local Law 196, these proposed building code changes relating to improving public safety, and specifically requiring site safety professionals on buildings 7 stories and above, will go a long way to make job sites safer and protect workers.  We thank DOB for this collaborative approach, and for putting workers and the public first.  We look forward to working with DOB and the NYC Council to turn these proposals into law.” 

“ACEC New York applauds the DOB on today’s introduction of legislation to comprehensively update the City’s Construction Codes. This marks the culmination of an intense and thorough collaborative process between DOB and stakeholders, which has produced a revised Construction Code that reflects best practices for safety, sustainability and technical advancements,” said Jay Simson, President & CEO, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York (ACEC New York). “We encourage expeditious passage of the legislation and look forward to continuing the engineering industry’s partnership with DOB.” 

“The New York State Society of Professional Engineers unequivocally endorses a series of five construction safety bills, together with omnibus amendments to the City’s Construction Codes updating same to reflect national safety standards and technical advancements,” said NYSSPE President Joseph Pasaturo, P.E. “DOB, design professionals and the contractor community have coalesced in crafting this series of construction safety bills and code revisions. Prompt attention of these measures will substantially improve construction safety at the City’s construction sites.” 

“On behalf of the Façade Restoration industry and all of the professionals who work diligently to protect and preserve New York City’s historic skyline and protect the public from the potential harms caused by aging buildings, we commend Commissioner La Rocca and DOB for all of the work that has gone into updating NYC’s building construction codes,” said Veronika Sikorski, President of the NYC Special Riggers Association. “The NYCSRA is committed to promoting new safety measures to protect our workers and passing pedestrians at all of our job sites.  We want everyone on and around each job site to make it home safely at the end of the day.” 

APRIL McIVER

“As a licensed and extremely regulated trade, the plumbing industry applauds the City for expanding licensing requirements and thus furthering oversight into other aspects of the construction industry,” said April McIver, Executive Director of the Plumbing Foundation City of New York, Inc. “More licensing will ensure better-trained persons are involved in the industry and will increase accountability on behalf of contractors if and when there is an incident. The goal of these bills is to make construction sites safer and we commend DOB for this effort.”  

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