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Commissioner LaRocca predicts 2021 to be “our safest year yet”

DOB's 2nd annual Build Safe | Live Safe Digital Construction Safety Conference

The free and open to the public, five-day-long event hosted by the NYC Department of Buildings offered Worker Safety Sessions in four languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin and Polish

Last year was, without a doubt, “unprecedented” said NYC DOB Commissioner Melanie LaRocca. While the year, as she noted, witnessed a near complete halt to all construction, it was also a time that proved the strength and perseverance of an industry that remained “incredibly resilient” in the face of Covid-19.

The DOB successfully pivoted to digital, even creating the first pilot remote video inspection. Moreover, as DOB Deputy Commissioner of Enforcement Timothy Hogan pointed out, there was a drop in construction-related injuries and fatalities by roughly a third each and close to total DOB compliance.

LaRocca and Hogan shared these observations at the Construction Safety 2020-21 Retrospective, the Monday, May 3 session that opened the DOB’s second annual Build Safe | Live Safe 2021 Digital Construction Safety Conference that ran through Friday, May 7, 2021. The event coincided with National Construction Safety Week and OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. Free and open to the public, it offered Worker Safety sessions in four languages over consecutive evenings for the first time: English, Spanish, Mandarin and Polish. Many courses were eligible for AIA continuing education credits.

Hogan led off by telling participants that the DOB will soon be issuing universal Site Safety Training cards to replace existing cards.

He credited the industry for responding “in an overwhelming fashion” in 2020. From a grand total of inspections approaching the half million mark - 488,693 - there were only 386 non-compliance violations and 76 stop-work orders, both well under 1% of the total.

“Kudos to your tenacity in meeting the guidelines,” said Hogan.

LaRocca reported that nearly ¾ of work sites started with deficiencies, yet ¾ are now free of them. With Local Law 196 fully implemented, the goal is to “continue to progress and become a safer industry as a whole,” she said.

The Commissioner noted that general contractors might soon need to be licensed. The pending legislation, when passed, “will allow us for the first time to hold bad actors accountable for their misdoings.” The requirement for dedicated site safety professionals being on the job site will be expanded.

LaRocca concluded that “2021 is going to be a great year for us. It’s going to be our safest year yet.”

Hogan reported a 34% drop in injuries and a 33% reduction in fatalities. He detailed case histories of the year’s eight fatalities – down from 12 in 2019 – and near misses, “unfortunate incidents that could have been worse.” In one case, three workers were saved as they dangled from harnesses, “a stark reminder to tie off.”

The evening of opening day, Ausberto (“Augie”) Huertas Jr., assistant commissioner for construction safety compliance, and Patricia Fernandez, director of construction safety standards & guidance, offered a Worker Safety overview. Responding to questions online were Ronald Mener, director of construction safety compliance; Christian Gandolfo, assistant chief inspector, construction safety compliance; and Wilson Ortiz, curriculum developer Buildings University.

Fernandez listed and gave examples of the dangers of the Top 10 Site Safety Monitoring Violations:

1. Failure to follow approved drawings

2. Failure to maintain safety documents

3. Failure to perform duties

4. Failure to maintain a construction fence

5. Failure to comply with fire code

6. Failure to maintain scaffold

7. Failure to obtain required training – including proper use of equipment

8. Failure to maintain temporary construction equipment permits

9. Temporary construction equipment on site expired

10. Failure to install/maintain guard rails.

Huertas spoke of the need for training, then listed who does and who does not require site safety training –the latter category includes all who aren’t part of the active construction crew such as owners, developers, project managers, construction managers, GCs, PEs, architects, engineers and delivery persons.

He outlined requirements for the Covid-19 Site Safety plan such as signage and a 50% occupancy limit for hoists and elevators. Huertas also stressed the importance of such steps as signing the logbook daily, maintaining presence on site while work is performed, and designating a competent person. He detailed the duties and responsibilities of the critically important competent person.

Fernandez chronicled Near Misses followed by Incidents with Injuries. Huertas reviewed fatalities caused mainly by slips, trips, falls 50%; materials struck by 38%; and electrocution 12%. He reminded all that “Safety starts with you.”

Huertas concluded the program by outlining Workers’ Rights:

• Right to a safe workplace

• Right to receive training and information on hazards and how to prevent them

• Right to review records of injuries and illness that occur in the workplace

• Right to report safety concerns without danger of retaliation

• Right to participate in an OSHA investigation

• Right to receive copies of workplace medical records

He reminded participants that one can lodge an anonymous complaint with 311 if a hazard is noticed. A safety professional should be notified if an incident occurs.

Questions for the NYC DOB on site safety training can be emailed to


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