Demolition-safety bills introduced in Council

Posted: October 05, 2013

PHILADELPHIA The leader of a City Council probe on demolition practices says he expects Council action by the end of the year on a broad legislative package to promote safety at Philadelphia demolition and construction sites.

The proposals, subject to negotiation and change, would establish minimum training requirements for contractors and city building inspectors, require contractors to hire independent site-safety monitors at every construction or demolition site, expand the authority of the Fire Department to shut down dangerous construction jobs, and require demolition contractors to convince the city of their skills and training before they are licensed to work in Philadelphia.

The proposals were spurred by the June 5 accident at 22d and Market Streets where a four-story brick wall, left standing without support at a demolition site, toppled onto a Salvation Army thrift shop next door. Six people inside the shop died and 14 others were injured, including a heavy-equipment operator, who remains in jail for his alleged role in causing the collapse.

Curtis Jones Jr., chairman of a Council committee that held demolition hearings over the summer, said he expected to negotiate details with the Nutter administration and Council members, then schedule hearings and pass legislation by the end of December, in time to address funding needs in next year's budget.

"The administration has given us a general sense of 'you're moving in the right direction,' but the devil is in the details," Jones said. "We're a long way from knowing what things cost and being prepared to ante up in the budget."

Mayor Nutter issued a statement praising Council's work, citing steps his administration has taken to strengthen regulation of demolitions, and promising to work with Council "to ensure safety at all demolition sites in the city."

Council sources said there was still significant disagreement among Council members on how stringent the regulatory requirements should be.

Concerns include the impact on Philadelphia construction costs, city budget implications, and how it would affect the continuing friction between union and nonunion contractors, frequently accused by the construction trade unions of neglecting safety issues to save money.

The city's Building Industry Association did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

Patrick Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, described the proposals as "an encouraging start," but said he had not reviewed them in detail.

The legislation introduced Thursday included five bills to change city codes and five resolutions seeking action from other government agencies. Among the proposals:

Required training for all building inspectors, construction-plan reviewers, and their supervisors in the Department of Licenses and Inspections. All would have to complete a 30-hour training program developed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and one in five would need certification in a 500-hour training program known as OSHA 500, enabling them to train others.

A new requirement that a "licensed site safety monitor" be present at every construction or demolition site. Contractors would be required to keep a daily log of the monitor's attendance and submit the information to L&I.

New requirements for contractors to obtain a demolition license, including completion of the 30-hour training program, past demolition experience, and disclosure of any past building-code violations. A $2,000 penalty would be established for providing false information.

Authority for the Fire Department to issue stop-work orders whenever it deemed a construction or demolition site unsafe.

Creation of detailed site safety plans to be submitted to L&I before any construction or demolition projects could begin, subject to review by inspectors.


warnerb@phillynews.com

215-854-5885

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