City announces new demolition standards in wake of building collapse

demolition building collapse
Inspectors at the site of the building collapse Sunday. (Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro)

In the wake of Wednesday’s fatal building collapse near 22nd and Market streets, Mayor Michael Nutter on Friday announced a sweeping set of reforms setting more controls and standards for demolition contractors.

Nutter began the news conference by apologizing to the victims, survivors and their families.

“In hindsight, we can all wish that matters were handled differently so that death and injury did not occur,” he continued.

“But our task now is to answer the question: How can we improve government practices to reduce risk? How can we prevent another 22nd and Market street tragedy?”

Among the changes set to go into effect immediately, all new demolition permit applications must now include details on the experience and qualifications of the contractor performing the demolition, a schedule laying out each stage of work and a site safety plan detailing how the contractor proposes to protect pedestrians and adjacent properties during the process.

Officials during the permitting process will now also ensure the contractor has no active violations and review any previous violations.

The application will be required to contain a professional engineer’s report on the protection of adjacent properties when the demolition is taking place at a commercial building taller than three stories.

The Department of L&I will coordinate with the Department of Revenue to ensure demolition contractors and subcontractors provide proof of insurance and tax clearances for all employees before any permit is approved.

The demolition inspection process will also be overhauled, with inspectors required to conduct a site safety review with the contractor prior to the start of work, during which steps for protecting neighboring properties and pedestrians will be discussed.

“The Department of Licenses and Inspections is currently inspecting every single site where an open demolition permit is in place,” Nutter said.

“By next week, we will have completed this task, which is aimed at ensuring Philadelphians that we will have no violations of law at any of these locations.”

And those who don’t comply with the new rules face stepped-up penalties – if contractors don’t notify L&I that work has started, an inspector will visit the demolition site every 15 days from the date the permit was issued.

If, within 45 days, the inspector finds no evidence of legitimate work, the permit will be revoked.

If the contractor is discovered working without first notifying L&I, as required, the inspector will issue a Stop Work Order pending a hearing and site safety review.

“The Department’s heightened permitting, inspection, and review requirements will ensure that all private demolition sites are safe for adjacent properties, pedestrians, and site workers,” Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams said.

As far as complaints regarding demolition activity, L&I will now investigate them within a 24- to 48-hour period and provide detailed reports containing the nature of the complaint, an explanation of findings, a determination of compliance and time- and date-stamped photos of all site visits and inspections.

L&I will also increase internal oversight with regular analyses of internal audit findings to identify and address areas of nonconformance and inefficiency.

Finally, L&I is creating a Construction Site Task Force, which will coordinate with the Department of Revenue, Law and the Office of the Inspector General to audit and enforce proper licensing, permitting and tax compliance of primary contractors, subcontractors and workers related to a demolition project.

The Task Force will also ensure area wage rates and standards are being upheld, with violations leading to an immediate suspension of permits and discontinuation of projects.

“In some cases, we are able to make changes through regulation,” Nutter said.

“In other areas, we may need to seek new laws, of course with the support of Philadelphia City Council.”

To that end, the Nutter Administration issued several recommendations for further legislative action.

Those include establishing a separate license category for demolition contractors that contains testing and experience requirements and implementing a Stop Work Order for those who fail to call for inspections with a $1,000 inspection fee that must be paid before work can resume.

The Administration also suggests requiring background checks for demolition workers and mandating that contractors provide random drug screenings to heavy equipment operators on demolition sites as part of the safety inspection.

Nutter further announced that, in addition to pending investigations of the collapse by L&I, Philadelphia police, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Fire Marshal, Inspector General Amy Kurland will also conduct an internal review of the practices leading up to the tragedy.

“The Inspector General’s investigation is an investigation of what public employees or other individuals engaged with public employees may or may not have done,” Nutter said.

“We want to make sure we have a good internal analysis of what happened, who did what, who engaged with whom and how all those things happened.”

He said the reforms are “just the beginning” and he expects to make more changes pending the outcome of the various investigations.


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