Amid a long-running construction boom in New York, the Department of Buildings (DOB) sent a message to construction companies and contractors by cracking down on habitual offenders with a round of “surprise inspections.” The DOB’s new commissioner took action against the construction industry during his first few days on the job. “Every worker should be thinking about safety first,” Acting Buildings Commissioner Thomas Fariello told WNYC, “It’s not just a saying, it’s real.”
The DOB has been roundly criticized for failing to protect the workers in New York’s most dangerous industry. In April, three construction workers died while on the job. In the same month, the DOB delayed implementing new safety regulations for the second time since the law passed City Council in 2017. The city-run agency said it had insufficient resources to draft and enforce the regulations.
That explanation does not seem plausible, though. According to The New York Daily News, the DOB’s budget has increased by 60% in just the last four years. The department hired 214 more inspectors and increased its staff by 51% overall.
Despite the massive increase in resources, noncompliance with safety regulations is still widespread and rarely punished. Consequently, the rate of construction accidents and fatalities increased sharply during the same time the DOB’s budget ballooned. With an astoundingly high budget of $160 million and a booming construction industry, the number of safety violations issued by the DOB is relatively unchanged from four years ago.
Given the DOB’s record of failure, workplace safety advocates hope the new commissioner at the DOB will help turn the beleaguered agency around. Commissioner Fariello told WNYC that construction sites would only be reopened when their safety issues have been resolved. He also announced the DOB will begin fining construction contractors who do not report accidents or deaths at their job site. According to him, the law has become so widely ignored that only construction companies only reported 12 injuries in 2018.
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