Volume 77 / Number 52 - May 28 - June 3, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Construction safety for kids, and everyone

Downtown Little League players and parents luckily escaped death on Sat., May 17, when a piece of metal fell off the Goldman Sachs building under construction and crashed onto the Battery Park City ballfields across the street.

It was yet another reminder of how unsafe building construction and demolitions are all over the city and in Lower Manhattan, in particular.

After a tower crane accident killed seven people in Midtown in March, city inspections of cranes found problems with three in Lower Manhattan, including at Goldman.

The chronically dysfunctional Buildings Department did not inspect the Deutsche Bank’s standpipe before last August’s fatal fire across from the World Trade Center site, in which two Village firefighters perished, nor did it step in and warn the public about the serious safety violations it was uncovering.

There were signs last week that Buildings may finally be getting the message that things must change. We were pleasantly shocked to learn that not only will Goldman and its contractor, Tishman Construction Corporation, have to come up with a new and better safety plan, but that the Buildings Department will not let the firms resume work in Battery Park City until they present the plan to Community Board 1 at a public meeting.

But community review, better safety on one project and the recent announcement about hiring 63 new building inspectors is far from enough. There are clear problems with safety regulations that must addressed.

The dirty little secret about construction in the city is that deaths are not uncommon. Government leaders and developers have been looking the other way for decades.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, in a recent op-ed we published, argued convincingly that the city has let the construction boom continue without slowing things down to fix the obvious safety problems.

In the wake of the Goldman accident, Councilmember Alan Gerson has proposed the city take a close look at the tighter construction regulations in London and the European Union. In London, materials being hoisted are required to be secured — a regulation that probably would have prevented the Goldman accident.

High winds may have also contributed to the Goldman accident. Better wind regulations are needed.

The ballfields are not only vulnerable to the Goldman project, but they are even closer to two residential towers being built by Milstein Properties. Better safety measures must be in place before these towers go up.

Though there’s understandable sensitivity to construction safety near fields where children play, safety must be improved everywhere. Pedestrians, drivers and, of course, construction workers are near large construction projects every day and need better protection.

Better safety almost undoubtedly will mean higher construction costs. But if a developer raises that issue, find out if he’s willing to tell a grieving parent how much money he saved by blocking a safety regulation.

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