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Council’s new demolition rules address concerns from June tragedy

2/14/2014 | Construction Blog, Real Estate Blog

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster that took down the Salvation Army building in Center City, Philadelphia united in calls for reform of the city’s demolition regulations. As you may recall, in early June 2013, a crew member began to take down the wall of a building at 22nd and Market Streets, and the wall collapsed on the adjacent Salvation Army Thrift Store, killing six people.

This was a preventable tragedy. Investigations showed a long list of problems with the demolition, including pressure from the property owner to complete the job and communication issues with the Salvation Army. We wrote about some of the problems in our Dec. 27, 2013, post.

The wall went down in June, but making laws takes time. Still, the pressure never let up on city officials, and earlier this month the Philadelphia City Council passed a five-bill package that council members believe will make demolition sites much safer. If some of the measures sound familiar, we should note that the city adopted many of these practices over the past few months; these bills merely formalize the improvements.

The bills address demolition practices, the responsibilities of contractors and the role of the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The new rules include:

  • An application for a demolition permit must include a detailed safety plan.
  • A contractor must meet certain experience requirements and must go through safety training before the city will issue a permit.
  • A contractor must pass the city’s background check on work history and finances.
  • A contractor must hire an independent safety monitor for the site.
  • Demolition workers must complete a 10-hour safety course developed for use by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • L&I must complete a series of inspections from the beginning to the end of the project.
  • City inspectors and their supervisors must complete safety training.

To accomplish its objectives, the council estimates L&I will need an additional $2 million every year. The city’s budgeting process begins in March.

These laws may not be the last changes that come from the Salvation Army collapse. The mayor’s workgroup of construction and regulation experts has yet to complete its review of L&I. That report is due July 1.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Phila. City Council passes tougher demolition rules,” Bob Warner and Troy Graham, Feb. 8, 2014