Penn. Mulls Tougher Demolition Rules in Wake of Fatal Building Collapse

June 27, 2013

Pennsylvania’s House Republican leaders recently agreed to hold a public hearing on legislation to better regulate the state’s demolition industry. The public hearing is expected to be held in July following passage of the state budget.

The bill’s proposals include a requirement that a contractor seeking a demolition permit for a commercial building or multi-family dwelling in Philadelphia maintain liability insurance of at least $1 million and post a surety bond to the city in the amount of $2 per square foot of the property.

State Rep. Bill Keller (D-Phila.), who serves as Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said he is introducing legislation in response to the deadly June 5 building collapse in Philadelphia, which claimed the lives of six people and seriously injured others.

“Investigations into the cause of this tragic event are ongoing. But we do have a pretty clear picture of the failures on the part of the demolition contractor and city regulators, as well as gaps in the law,” Keller said.

“My legislation seeks to address the known failures in the system and raise the bar for demolitions to ensure that contractors who perform this dangerous work provide the required construction and demolitions site safety for their workers and the public.”

Keller said photographs and eyewitness reports prior to the demolition show inadequate pedestrian protection, bricks raining down and workers on the site without hardhats, as well as workers allegedly ignoring vital safety rules such as taking down supports for four-story walls and operating heavy machinery without first stabilizing the freestanding walls.

Workers at nearby sites also claim to have contacted city inspectors and OSHA about the dangers they were observing, Keller also said. He said he intends to make sure those accounts are conveyed during the legislative hearings.

Keller’s bill seeks to amend the state’s Uniform Construction Code to specifically address the demolition of commercial buildings in Philadelphia. It would:

Require the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to annually review Philadelphia’s inspectors and building code officials to ensure that they have the required training and qualifications.

Require certain standards to be met to issue a demolition permit for a commercial building or multi-family dwelling in the city. To obtain a permit, a contractor would have to, at minimum:

  • Provide building plans and a demolition schedule prepared by a licensed architect or engineer;
  • Provide a site-safety plan that meets or exceeds OSHA regulations;
  • Maintain liability insurance of at least $1 million;
  • Post a surety bond to the city in the amount of $2 per square foot of the property — to ensure the work is performed correctly;
  • Provide notice of the demolition application and schedule by certified mail to adjacent property owners and occupants; and
  • Comply with any other requirements set forth by the city.

Keller said his bill also would require Philadelphia to perform building inspections before issuing demolition permits, allow the city to adopt demolition codes and standards that are stronger than the UCC requires, and charge an additional $100 fee on permits to fund more training and staffing of inspectors. It also would allow other municipalities to opt-in to all of the provisions, except the additional $100 permit fee.

According to Keller, city inspectors increased demolition site inspections immediately after the four-story commercial building under demolition collapsed onto the adjacent one-story Salvation Army thrift store. Inspectors found violations at two more demolition sites by the same contractor, Griffen Campbell, and stopped work at those sites, the legislator said.

“This tragic event and the violations found at other sites have clearly shown that it is in the best interest of public safety to ensure that demolition contractors are qualified and competent and properly monitored,” Keller said. “We must do what we can to prevent such future tragic events.”

Source: Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Topics Legislation Pennsylvania Contractors

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