August 1, 2013
For Immediate Release
Testimony of Robert J Mongeluzzi before City Council of Philadelphia Special Investigative Committee
Plan your work and work your plan. This common sense statement has been a core construction safety practice for a century. Demolition safety requires professional planning, the selection of a safe and experienced demolition contractor and meaningful oversight from a professionally led city agency.
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
OSHA 1926.850 provides that “prior to permitting employees to start demolition operations, an engineering survey shall be made, by a competent person, of the structure to determine the possibility of unplanned collapse of any portion of the structure. Any adjacent structure where employees may be exposed shall be similarly checked. The employer shall have in writing evidence that such a survey has been performed.” The city has now required that an engineering survey be submitted before a permit is issued. This is a great first step. However, an engineering survey performed by a demolition contractor, without the benefit of an engineer, is deficient. Unless the city requires a stamped engineered demolition survey in all situations, they will leave the door open for unsafe contractors to perform an engineering survey even though they are not engineers. The city should require an engineered demolition survey stamped by a professional engineer in all situations, not just when the structure being demolished exceeds 3 stories. In this author’s experience, demolition collapses and injuries rarely, if ever, occur on projects where there is an engineered demolition survey. Rather, it is this author’s experience that catastrophes, deaths and catastrophic injuries occurred during demolition operations because there were no engineering surveys.The newly enacted regulation that there be “a professional engineer’s report on adjacent property protection for demolition of commercial buildings above 3 stories” is not sufficient protection. A 3 story building can collapse with the same deadly effect as a building in excess of 3 stories.
Technical Agencies Require Professional Leadership
The Department of Licenses & Inspections performs a integral role in providing for the safety of the citizens of the City of Philadelphia. Construction activities, demolition operations and maintenance all have the potential for devastating, wide-spread harm as was illustrated in the deadly collapse on Market Street. These technical areas require technical expertise. The Department Head of L & I, or, a newly created position with direct reporting to the Head of L & I, should be a professional engineer experienced in construction, demolition and maintenance.
Inspection Requires Experience, Training and Power
The inspectors for both construction and demolition should be specifically and carefully trained in the areas in which they will inspect. Construction inspectors should be familiar not only with the city building code, but with the OSHA Construction Safety Regulations. The department should institute a training and testing protocol to insure that its inspection forces are trained, sophisticated, and familiar with all applicable codes. The city should arm its inspectors with the authority to suspend work and issue substantial fines. The fines should have real deterrent effect. Any fine less than the actual cost of compliance would serve no purpose. The violating contractor should fear the economic impact of failure to comply.
The city should eliminate the use of the expediter system. It is simply unfair to use an expediter to move to the head of the line. All of our citizens, and all of our projects, should be treated equally. Neither patronage nor influence should affect the issuance of a permit, or the timing of when a permit is granted. An expediter system creates two separate systems – one for the connected, and one for the average citizen. It allows unsafe contractors to hide behind the qualifications of the expediter. It has the potential to breed corruption. It should be eliminated.
Robert J. Mongeluzzi has handled hundreds of construction and demolition accident cases. He has spent tens of thousands of hours intensively questioning witnesses, engineers, construction workers, architects, inspectors and others regarding the root cause of construction and demolition accidents, collapses . he was lead counsel in every major collapse in the Philadelphia region in recent memory including the Tropicana collapse, the Pier 34 collapse and the Kimmel Center collapse.