You are walking along the sidewalk and, as happens so frequently in New York, you approach a portion that
is covered by a sidewalk construction shed. Thinking nothing of it, you stay on that side of the street and continue walking under it. The next thing you know you hear tires screeching on the pavement. Glancing over your shoulder you see a cab barreling toward the very sidewalk shed you are walking under. Within a split second all of the scaffolding is falling down on top of you.
This is not a fictional scenario. This very incident happened this past summer on the corner of 44th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. A taxi driver lost control of the car and careened into one of the support poles knocking most of the scaffolding down and injuring ten pedestrians. The scaffolding company and contruction company involved were fined $1,500 each for overloading the shed.
Permits and Requirements
It seems as though every other block in the city is surrounded by some sort of scaffolding. From January to August, the City issued 1,148 permits for sidewalk sheds citywide, an increase of 14 percent over the same period last year. The increase is due in part to the deadline for facade inspections required by Local Law 10, states Ilyse Fink, press officer for the New York City Department of Buildings. Also, the real estate market is recovering and new construction and renovations are beginning to take place.
Whether it be a small scaffolding set up on a brownstone or one that encloses an entire building like the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue, in mid-Manhattan alone there are about 26 miles of sidewalk that are enclosed by approximately 67 sidewalk sheds. It is a wonder that collapses like the one on Third Avenue don't occur more often.
When a sidewalk shed is constructed properly and meets requirements, you will not notice when a worker's tools fall or when a piece of brick falls, says Fink. They are designed so that you don't have to worry about such things. It is amazing to think how many crushed skulls have been avoided by sidewalk sheds.
Sidewalk sheds are required by law when a building higher than 40 feet is under construction or when any part of a facade more than 40 feet above the curb is altered or repaired. For buildings 100 feet or higher sheds must extend an extra 20 feet along the sidewalk, even if that means crossing property lines.
The city guidelines are very strict so that we don't have more accidents. Stating that wood used on planks must be of a certain thickness and that poles be of a certain strength helps us protect everyone who comes in contact with a sidewalk shed. This is why there are so few accidents involving scaffolding, Fink explains.
According to Eric Cowley, president of Cowley Engineering, engineers and architects have to work closely with the scaffolding contractor to make sure that everything is done properly. All scaffolding work has to receive a special permit from the city. The engineer or architect must submit a detailed design drawing of the proposed structure and then a detailed report stating what type of work is to be completed on the site, says Cowley. When the permit is granted it is only good for one year or the expiration of the contractor's insurance, whichever comes first. A sign must also be erected on the shed that states the name, address an ffb d telephone number of the contractor as well as the permit and permit number. There are no renewals of the permit unless the architect or engineer inspects the site and submits a report to the Department of Buildings, Cowley adds.
Before a building takes on the task of erecting sidewalk sheds, there are steps that must be taken in addition to following scaffolding guidelines. Work closely with the building's lawyers, says Phyllis Weisberg, a partner with the Manhattan law firm Kurzman, Karelson & Frank. This is true anytime a building is going to enter into a contract. By doing this the attorney can check to see that all the bases are covered and the chance of problems will be minimized if the shed should collapse.
The key is to find a company that is reputable, check out its references and always make sure that for this type of work the building's attorney and insurance representative look over the contract before it is signed, says Robert Tierman, a partner of the Manhattan law firm Salon Marrow Dyckman LLP.
The construction contractor should be the most reputable one you can find, says Steve Katz, president of Kay Waterproofing. Try to do as much research as you possibly can. When choosing the contractor always look at their references and choose them carefully. It is important to find out if the job was completed on schedule. Were there any problems involved, and if so what were they? And of course, how was the overall result of the completed work? The more research you do in the beginning the more you can save in the end, states Katz.
Don't Scrimp on Insurance
Insurance is extremely important before signing a contract, says Michael Wolf, principal of Midboro Management in Manhattan. The building must make sure that it gets an insurance certificate that names all of the parties involved, including the co-op or condo, managing agent and all of the contractors. This is a very crucial element that is often overlooked.
The building must insist on getting the insurance certificate, including the building's interest of the additionally insured that makes the contractor's insurance primary to the building's, in the event that there is a problem, explains Stu Oberman, president of the Oberman Group, an insurance company based in Westchester. He adds that the building should look for an umbrella policy under the General Liability that provides an additional $5 million worth of coverage.
According to Oberman, after the limit of coverage has been set, it is important to make sure the policy includes coverage for completed operations and products. That is what also covers the action after the people leave, says Oberman. It is not just enough to have General Liability. You need to have operations and products included in case something happens when the work is completed and everyone has gone. You also need to include XC&U coverage (Explosion, Collapse and Underground Property Damage). This is something that is easily overlooked because many insurance carriers are reluctant to provide this type of coverage. This coverage is important for the hazards of collapses, explosions and underground damage especially if the scaffolding is going to be near a subway and the contractors are going to be putting a lot of weight on these sections of sidewalk.
It is also important to have your insurance provider look at the insurance certificate of the contractor to make sure that the quality of their insurance provider is adequate. For example, the Oberman Group will not except a certificate from a carrier if that carrier's rating is below A minus eight which is a best rating. This can ensure that the contractor's insurance company is reputable.
Arthur Schwartz, president of S & H Insurance in Manhattan, suggests that the certificates of insurance be altered to make sure that the building gets proper notice of cancellation or if any changes have been made in the area of coverage. The language on the bottom of the certificate has a disclaimer that states that the insurance co ffb mpany is going to endeavor to notify the certificate holder in the event of cancellation, Schwartz explains. In this disclaimer the words M-endeavor to' should be crossed out so that there is more burden on the insurance company to notify the certificate holder when changes are made in coverage. Oberman explains that there is a provision that provides a standard ten-day notice of cancellation that should be changed to a 30-day notice of cancellation that will give the building or contractor more time to replace that coverage.
The contractor is responsible for making sure that everything is in order as to who is working on what. The general contractor is the one who is ultimately responsible. This is why it is important to look closely at the insurance certificates with the building's insurance provider and attorney, stresses Schwartz.
Tierman adds that it is important to pay attention to the legal relationship between the contractor and any sub-contractors. Make sure every contract and insurance policy mentions exactly who is involved from contractor to sub-contractor and who is responsible for what, he advises.
Supervising the Work
After the contractor has been chosen and the permit and insurance are in place, make sure that the installation is done properly and that it meets the City's requirements. It is a good idea to have the architect, engineer or the managing agent on site when the shed is being installed, says Wolf. If people know they are being watched, they will have more of an incentive to make sure it is done properly. It's also important to have one of these people come in during the installation, work and removal so that all aspects of the job are being watched over and that everything is safe and secure.
In addition to making sure that everything is secure, it is also important to make sure that the design drawings be kept available at the site as per City requirements and to also make sure that the work is being completed according to the necessary time line so that the permit won't expire before the work is completed, explains Tierman.
Wolf mentions that most scaffolding companies will throw in a month or two for free if the scaffolding equipment is rented. This needs to be looked at closely. You don't want to rent the scaffolding for longer than the permit requires. Sure the scaffolding may be cheaper, but if something happens after the permit runs out this can be an expensive problem, Wolf states.
Any type of facade or exterior building work can be daunting and confusing to every board, says Wolf. But it is nothing to be afraid of if you work closely with your management team. Let the professionals help you. They are there to guide you and make sure all the proper requirements are met.
Ms. Cooper is Editorial/Internet Coordinator for the Cooperator.