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Preventing future demolition tragedies

OSHA and City of Philadelphia join forces

Imagine walking into a store to shop. You notice the building next door is being demolished to make way for a new and better structure. You are happy to see this much-needed redevelopment in the community. What you probably do not think about is the danger that demolition project poses.

A routine scenario like this turned to catastrophe the morning of June 5, 2013, when a four-story building being demolished on historic Market Street collapsed onto the one-story Salvation Army Thrift Store next door. Six people were killed and 14 people were injured.

Following an extensive investigation of the collapse, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) traced the cause back to removal of critical structural supports among other construction safety violations and failing to have an engineering survey of the structure.

In the wake of the 2013 Market Street demolition tragedy, Mayor Michael Nutter, the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L+I) and the Philadelphia City Council instituted significant changes in the city's demolition standards and building construction code, including a stronger partnership with OSHA to improve construction and worksite safety.

Site safety demolition plans with every demolition permit application

Contractors now must submit, as part of their demolition permit application, a site safety demolition plan or complete engineering survey developed by a "competent person" who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards at the job site. The plan takes into consideration the job site, adjoining properties, and the public. The party documenting the site safety plan must have training in the last five years in a course certified by L+I to provide significant public safety benefit.

Required presence of a site safety manager

During any construction or demolition of a major building, a site safety manager with OSHA 30-hour construction safety training (or city-certified equivalent) must be present and overseeing operations. This person is to have both the expertise and the authority to promptly eliminate hazardous working conditions. A major building is defined as more than three stories high or at least 10,000 square feet of lot space.

Additionally, Fire Department battalion chiefs now have the authority to issue stop work orders at construction or demolition sites whenever they detect a violation of the Fire Code or any other condition that presents an immediate danger to life or property.

Increased training for independent contractors and all workers

To further protect public safety on construction or demolition sites, independent contractors must now have completed OSHA 30-hour training. Likewise, all workers on a job site, regardless of their position, must have completed the OSHA10-hour construction safety course or equivalent training.

Formal training for city personnel

Recognizing that city personnel must have the training needed to identify worker and public safety issues, inspectors and code officials now must participate in a formal training program that includes, at a minimum, OSHA 30-hour training.

A new safety provision now requires city code inspectors to refer an observation of worker safety violations to OSHA. As a result of this referral-assisted activity and L+I stop work orders on imminently dangerous situations (between october 1, 2013 and september 30, 2014), approximately 170 workers were removed from potentially harmful worksites and kept safe.

In aging cities and smaller communities across the United States, thousands of dangerous older buildings and structures pose serious hazards. Adopting similar standards implemented in and by the City of Philadelphia and OSHA would increase safety to on-site workers and the public.

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