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How Safe Is the Scaffolding in Our City?

Any New Yorker knows well the feeling of walking beneath scaffolding on the streets. Still, many will be amazed to learn that on any given day, there is almost 300 miles of it criss-crossing New York City.

But is it safe? A local media outlet attempted to find that out.

Back in November, tragedy was narrowly averted when scaffolding erected in SoHo at Broadway and Prince collapsed, trapping passersby under construction debris and scaffolding. Only one person needed to go to the hospital that day.

In the wake of the collapse, plaintiffs have filed litigation for $50 million. Among the named defendants was the company that erected the scaffolds.

In New York City, the Department of Buildings issues the permits for scaffold erection and also regulates the industry. The commissioner of that department had an investigative team determine the reason for the November collapse, which reportedly was due to negligence.

As a result, the engineer in charge of planning the sidewalk shed and scaffolding at the collapse site is barred by the DOB to do further work in the city. The team of investigators inspected additional scaffolding erected by the above-mentioned scaffolding company on city streets and discovered other problems.

Why is there so much scaffolding?

Approximately 7,800 new builds and crumbling masonry require erecting mandatory scaffolding that’s funded by private entities. It’s up to the DOB commissioner and the 1,700 employees he supervises to oversee the safety of the burgeoning industry. The commissioner observed that since he assumed his position four years ago, his staff has increased by 700 in order “to meet the demand in the construction industry.”

Because no legal limits exist for the duration of scaffolding projects, some scaffolding remains up for longer than a decade. For some property owners, it’s cheaper to leave it up than to make expensive repairs to the facades of historic buildings.

Scaffolding versus safety and quality of life

For one city councilmember, it’s about aesthetics and safety. Metal skeletons over city sidewalks can be both an eyesore and a hazard. His solution is to make a law that all scaffolding work be completed in 180 days. After that, the city will take over the projects and send the property owners the hefty bills.

Builders complain that those involved in the DOB permitting process for building and repairs need to shoulder their share of the blame due to backlogs that keep builders’ hands tied. The commissioner cites the almost-doubled workforce to refute their allegations.

Regardless of the debate, all must work together to ensure that New York City construction workers, residents and tourists are protected from deadly scaffolding mishaps.