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To determine whether the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) adequately monitors New York City (NYC) building construction sites to ensure compliance with applicable safety codes, laws, and rules on construction sites. The audit covered the period from January 2018 to December 2021.

About the program

DOB is responsible for regulating the safe and legal use of more than one million buildings and construction sites in New York by enforcing, among other laws and rules, the New York Building Code (Building Code). This requires construction managers, contractors and subcontractors engaged in construction or demolition operations to institute and maintain the necessary safety measures to protect the public and property. DOB inspectors respond to incidents and complaints and perform inspections to enforce compliance.

As the DOB website states, “construction is a dangerous business.” From 2018 to 2020, 26% of all worker deaths in New York City were construction-related. The DOB reported that 2,003 building construction incidents occurred between January 1, 2018 and May 15, 2021. These incidents resulted in 36 deaths and 2,066 injuries; 75% of the deaths occurred in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Main findings

We found that DOB oversight of construction sites, including construction site inspections and safety, and enforcement activities need improvement. This monitoring and enforcement is intended to address safety issues that could lead to death, personal injury, and property damage. Between June 10, 2021 and August 31, 2021, we visited 43 construction sites located across New York’s five boroughs. Eighteen of these sites were actively under construction at the time of our visits, and 16 of the 18 sites (89%) had a total of 77 security issues, including: not having a site security officer; missing or incomplete site safety logs and daily inspection logs; and no documentation of workers completing required site safety training or attending required safety meetings. Although the DOB has tracked and issued summonses to some of these sites, in general it does not effectively prioritize the sites inspected.

Typically, DOB inspections have been conducted after an incident has occurred or a complaint has been received, although its past enforcement actions and contractors’ safety history are data sets that could be used to help identify high-risk construction sites. In addition, DOB enforcement activities provide limited assurance that immediately hazardous conditions identified by the DOB are addressed in a timely manner. When DOB inspectors issue a summons for an immediately unsafe condition, the building owner or contractor must correct the condition immediately. However, the DOB did not issue a violation for failure to certify timely correction for 10,890 (60%) of the 18,072 summonses issued for immediately unsafe conditions that were open for more than 30 days.

Finally, the DOB has inadequate procedures for identifying incidents and reporting injuries and fatalities on construction sites. We found that the DOB was not always aware of building construction incidents; three deaths and six injuries reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between January 2018 and May 2021 were not reported by the DOB.

Main recommendations

  • Create and implement policies and procedures to issue DOB violations for failure to certify corrections of immediately unsafe conditions in a timely manner.
  • Use DOB inspection, violation, and accident data as well as publicly available data to proactively identify high-risk contractors and sites to inspect.
  • Develop and implement procedures, including coordination with OSHA and other agencies having jurisdiction, to identify incidents on construction sites.