City officials vowed to take a closer look at the safety of New York’s construction boom in the aftermath of the Feb. 5 crane collapse that killed Upper West Sider David Wichs in Tribeca.
The collapse, which reportedly occurred when the crane was being secured due to high winds, also caused several injuries and damaged about six cars. Wichs, 38, was killed when the 565-foot tall crane collapsed onto Worth Street. Wichs, a computer trader, was walking to his job on Broadway from the Chambers Street subway station. He lived in a brownstone with his wife on the Upper West Side.
In a eulogy reported in The New York Times, Wichs’ widow, Rebecca Guttman, 34, spoke of their “storybook” romance. “When I met David, I felt something I had never felt before, despite many years of dating,” she said. “I had an instant connection with and attraction to him. We had the easiest connection. When I was with David, I felt like the most secure person in the world.”
Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal expressed her condolences shortly after the tragedy occurred, and vowed to work towards increased safety measures at construction sites to protect pedestrians.
“I want to extend my condolences to David’s friends, family, and congregation during this difficult time,” said Rosenthal. “As the investigation unfolds, I am committed to honoring David’s death by making construction sites more safe for passersby, particularly during high wind conditions.”
The Department of Buildings told this newspaper there are currently 53 active tower cranes in New York City and 25 active crawler cranes.
“Inspections are often done during installation, boom extensions, crane jumps and breakdown,” said a DOB spokesperson. “In addition, there are unannounced sweep inspections and complaint driven inspections.”
“During inclement weather, the [DOB] will also often conduct inspections,” he added.
The DOB said there are currently 11 crane inspectors operating citywide and there is currently no backlog on inspection requests.
One week after the accident, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city, amid a record construction boom, will be quadrupling penalties for safety violations at construction sites and embarking on a massive enforcement sweep involving 100 newly hired inspectors.
The city it will raise penalties for serious safety lapses from $2,400 to $10,000, and the penalty for lacking a construction superintendent will increase from $5,000 to a maximum of $25,000. The city will now mandate construction superintendents for projects under 10 stories.
According to de Blasio’s office, construction has surged more than 300 percent since 2009, which has led to an increase in construction-related injuries and fatalities.
“No building is worth a person’s life,” said de Blasio. “We have a responsibility to keep the men and women who are building New York City safe. We are ramping up inspections and oversight to make sure that our workers have added protections. We do not accept any loss of life in this business as inevitable or acceptable.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also slammed what she sees as lax safety oversight at job sites, particularly those involving cranes.
“While [this] crane collapse appears to have occurred in the midst of prudent efforts to lower and secure the crane against winds, the fact remains that this is the second work site-related death in as many days,” Brewer said. “This is unacceptable, and we must do better.”
Brewer announced her intention to work with labor leaders, developers, construction safety experts, and other elected officials to address what she called a “spike in construction accidents though legislation, rule changes, and better city enforcement.”
She said she is meeting with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies to explore how to strengthen construction safety.
Councilmember Margaret Chin, in whose district the accident occurred, also extended her condolences to Wichs’ family and thanked first responders.
“This incident is a tragic reminder of the importance of coordinating an ever increasing number of construction projects in densely packed neighborhoods downtown,” she said, before calling for a stop to plans to close the Dept. of Transportation’s downtown command center, “which is needed now more than ever, as this tragedy so powerfully illustrates. I will continue to fight on behalf of downtown residents who are living every day with non-stop construction.”