“I think the buildings commissioner resigned,” said Mayor Bloomberg last Wednesday when the press asked whether he had given Patricia Lancaster the push. It was an opaque statement from a normally plain-speaking figure, but at least it signalled the end of a clumsy and sensitive episode in New York public affairs. Whatever finally triggered her departure, it was clearly time for the head of the NYC Department of Buildings to go.
The enforcing office for all construction and zoning issues in the city has struggled with its complex operations, and its public image, for many years. This is unlikely to change any time soon. Although even Lancaster’s sternest critics accept that she has undone a legacy of inefficiency and alleged corruption stretching back decades, other issues are more pressing. Barely four months into 2008, thirteen deaths have been recorded on New York’s construction sites – already one more than during the whole of 2007, and easily enough to efface any amount of good work done at the department during Lancaster’s six-year tenure.
The disastrous aftermath of last month’s crane collapse on a site at East 51st Street made her position impossible: seven deaths, many more injured, extensive damage to surrounding buildings, and ugly confusion over whether the plans for the 43-storey tower contravened zoning regulations, and ought ever to have been approved.
Furthermore, despite personal dedication and strategic skill, Lancaster was not considered a winning media performer. As a high-profile official, with a difficult public safety brief, in a city gripped by a building boom, this shortcoming alone assured her departure. Last week, the New York press unsurprisingly chose to remind readers of recent blunders and fatalities in the city’s construction world, rather than focus on the Buildings Commissioner’s steady work in strengthening and streamlining the practices of her department. Lancaster has not defended herself effectively, and even Mayor Bloomberg - usually quick to speak up for embattled members of his administration - began last week by saying, “I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance”.
With exquisitely ironic timing, this whole mess coincides with the city’s annual Construction Safety Week (April 28th - May 2nd) during which Robert LiMandri, Lancaster’s former deputy, steps temporarily into her shoes. He has certainly started well, ordering a $4 million review of high-risk construction activity across New York as workers put down their tools to hold memorial sessions on Monday. But with a focus this sharp on the city’s building safety, a permanent replacement cannot come soon enough.
The Buildings Commissioner’s job is a tricky hybrid, ensuring the safety of New York’s citizens while enabling the booming development that is central to its prosperity. The next incumbent cannot be seen to pick sides as they take up Lancaster’s place, and will remain under intense scrutiny.
Indeed, there have been reports that the Mayor’s administration wishes to remove the current rule that the Commissioner be a qualified architect or engineer, paving the way for a more PR-aware, inspiring media presence than Lancaster has been. Mayor Bloomberg clearly knows that any new appointee will face harsh challenges. But if it emerges that he would rather employ a communications expert than a construction professional, the Buildings Department could be heading for a whole new dimension of controversy.
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The person should be a registered structural engineer with knowledge and experience of safety measures and procedures required on site.
Also it appears that staff with insufficient knowledge approved the the drawings.
In South Africa the Structural Design Engineer is required to provide a safety plan for the Contractor specifying the procedures for safety on site before commencement of construction:
The designer of a structure shall:
(a) before the contract is put out to tender, make available to the client all relevant information about the design of the relevant structure that may affect the pricing of the construction work;
(b) inform the contractor in writing of any known or anticipated dangers or hazards relating to the construction work, and make available all relevant information required for the safe execution of the work upon being designed or when the design is subsequently altered;
(c) subject to the provisions of paragraph (a) and (b) ensure that the following information is included in a report and made available to the contractorï‚¾
(i) a geo-science technical report where appropriate;
(ii) the loading the structure is designed to withstand; and
(iii) the methods and sequence of construction.
(d) not include anything in the design of the structure necessitating the use of dangerous procedures or materials hazardous to the health and safety of persons, which could be avoided by modifying the design or by substituting materials;
(e) take into account the hazards relating to any subsequent maintenance of the relevant structure and should make provision in the design for that work to be performed to minimise the risk;
(f) carry out sufficient inspections at appropriate times of the construction work involving the design of the relevant structure in order to ensure compliance with the design and a record of those inspections is to be kept on site;
(g) stop any contractor from executing any construction work which is not in accordance with the relevant design;
(h) conduct a final inspection of the completed structure prior to its commissioning in order to render it safe for use and issue a completion certificate to the contractor; and
(i) ensure that when preparing the design, cognisance is taken of ergonomic design principles in order to minimise ergonomic related hazards in all phases of the life cycle of a structure."
(Site:http://www.labour.gov.za/download/6338/Regulation - OHS - Construction Regulations 2003.doc)
Pieter Louw Pr Eng C Eng
Of course, it is difficult to find professional for Commissioner of Buildings position in New York City!!!
Difficult, because zoning is not enforsable, and any honest interpretation could be used against you.
Difficult, because most examiners and inspectors are poorly trained.
Difficult, because technical operations are at low level and city does nothing to correct it.
Difficult, because beaurocratic procedures are suffocating.
Difficult, because we have too few experienced practical professionals in the Department.
All that is because legal counselors completely supressed design professionals in everyday DOB work.
All that is because DOB is used and abused politically.
All that is because there is no single politician in New York, who dare to honestly look into huge problems in this field.
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