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After building collapse, city focuses on construction rules

7/2/2013 | Construction Blog, Real Estate Blog

The collapse of a wall at a demolition site in Philadelphia on June 5, 2013, served as a wake-up call for cities across the country. While investigators believe the sobriety of a demolition worker likely played a part in the collapse — and the deaths of six people — authorities may not have a complete picture of what happened for some time.

One disturbing fact is that the site had passed inspection just a couple of weeks before the accident. That is just one reason the Philadelphia City Council held a hearing recently to review construction and demolition rules and regulations. Another reason may be an unspoken need to shift any blame from the inspector who signed off on the project. A few days after the collapse, the inspector committed suicide.

Testimony at the hearing pointed to more than a few critical flaws with the system. For one, according to an electricians’ union representative, the city’s licensing system is not nearly strict enough. He explained that someone with an electrical contractor’s license can hire anyone to perform the work; moreover, the law does not require the licensed contractor to be at the site.

Lax licensing rules were apparent, as well, when investigators discovered that the owner of the construction company hired for the demolition has a criminal record. Still, the rules are only part of the problem: Enforcement is inconsistent at best.

Council members and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are considering some proposals that would toughen up construction and demolition rules and enforcement. One recommendation would be to require contractors to undergo a more rigorous prequalification process before they could obtain construction or demolition permits. Another would create a separate licensing process for demolition projects.

No definite plans were disclosed.

Source: NewsWorks, “Building experts say Philly’s construction rules lax, unenforced,” Holly Otterbein, June 27, 2013