On February 12, 2016, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler announced a new aggressive campaign to improve worker safety on construction sites. Specifically, commencing next Tuesday, February 16, rigorous safety sweeps of constructions sites ten stories or less are expected to be performed.

Doubtlessly, this initiative is a direct result of 1) an increase in construction related deaths in 2015, and 2) the investigation into the death of a worker on a project at Ninth Avenue that resulted in, among other things, the August 5, 2015 indictment of Harco Construction and its site safety manager for manslaughter and the debarment of Harco for safety violations.

In 2015, there were 11 deaths on New York City construction sites during which time there has been a 300% increase in construction in the City. However, in an unexpected development, 70% of all accidents occur at building sites of less than 10 stories.

Effective immediately, all new building sites of less than 10 stories or that involve an alteration to the building’s floor plates will now require a construction superintendent. This is a substantial change. Previously, many of these projects were exempt from the requirement of having a site safety manager to enforce the site safety plan.

All construction sites in the City, an estimated 1,500, will be inspected over the next 90 days, with a special emphasis on jobs 10 stories and below.

Penalties for violating stop work orders and other serious violations will be quadrupled from a range of $2,400 – $10,000 to $5,000 – $25,000.

Stop work orders will be issued more aggressively for safety violations. According to the Mayor’s statement, the emphasis will be on worker safety, but expect a similar emphasis on pedestrian safety as well due to last week’s crane accident.

Over the next 4 months, the Department of Buildings will hire 100 new inspectors. These new inspectors herald another change, referring more safety type issues for criminal prosecution.

In addition, the City announced that it will suspend contractors (i.e., bar them from pulling or maintaining any permits for construction) for poor safety records. Harco’s suspension was the first and it was lifted after they entered into a settlement with the City. The terms are not public, but the record suggests that the Harco settlement did include payment of a heavy fine.

The City believes that most construction accidents are preventable and hopes that by increasing the fines, suspensions and stop work orders will bring about more voluntary compliance with safety rules.

We will continue to monitor the City’s roll-out of this new, aggressive program.

Carol A. Sigmond  is a Partner in the New York Office of Cohen Seglias. She concentrates her practice on construction industry matters, including contract preparation, mediation, litigation, suretyship, bid protests, appeals and arbitration.

George E. Pallas is the Treasurer of Cohen Seglias as well as a Shareholder and member of the Board of Directors. He is also a Partner with the Firm’s Construction Group and acts as counsel to a wide range of construction clients that include general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers on both public and private projects.