Comptroller Finds Buildings Needs to Improve the Site Safety Professional Licensing Process

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer. Image credit: Office of the New York City Comptroller

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer. Image credit: Office of the New York City Comptroller

On June 30, 2016, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office released a Report on the Department of Buildings’ issuance of licenses to site safety professionals. There are two types of site safety professional licenses: site safety manager and site safety coordinator. City law requires that a site safety manager be onsite to oversee all work of any project to demolish or construct buildings 15 stories or more in height, and a site safety coordinator to oversee such work on a structure that is 10 to 14 stories high.

During Fiscal Year 2015, the Department of Buildings processed more than 100 applications for new site safety professionals and more than 400 renewal licenses. There are currently over 1,000 people who hold licenses.

The Comptroller reported that Buildings needed to improve its site safety professional licensing controls, and made recommendations for Buildings to improve the licensing process. The Comptroller stated that some files lacked supporting information required for the approval of applications. The Comptroller could not determine whether Buildings had failed to include that information in the files or whether the information had not been gathered in the first place.

The Comptroller stated that Buildings failed to properly track the processing of applications for new licenses. The Comptroller warned that unless the procedures were fixed, there was an increased risk of injuries to members of the public and construction workers due to licenses being issued to people who were not qualified. Additionally, the delays in processing initial applications could create a shortage of licensed professionals, which could create delays for the construction and demolition of buildings.

The Comptroller made 22 recommendations to improve the licensing process, including a more careful review of the applicants’ qualifications, and that Buildings require each application to contain all required supporting documents before issuing the license. The Comptroller reported that there was inadequate supervisory involvement and recommended that a supervisor review key items prior to issuance of a license. The Comptroller recommended that Buildings step up its efforts to process applications within six months, and that Buildings create and use checklists for tracking the application process for both new licenses and renewals. The Comptroller also recommended that Buildings assign a legal associate to review the information reported by the background check, rather than have reviews triggered where there may have been negative information.

Buildings agreed with 18 of the 22 recommendations. Buildings reported that the relevant records were now being kept in one central location, rather than spread out in different locations as before. Buildings was also implementing various checklists and adding audit processes to ensure that the reviews were being done properly. Further, Buildings stated it planned to implement a program in 2017 named “DOB NOW: Licensing,” which would respond to many of the concerns raised by the audit and would enable Buildings to process the applications more efficiently, increase data storage, and help ensure that only qualified individuals are issued licenses.

Buildings disagreed with the recommendation that supervisors and legal counsel participate in more of the process, citing staffing and efficiency issues. Buildings is, however, creating increased auditing procedures to give supervisors more control, and will continue to have counsel review files where the background check reveals possible criminal information.

Audit Report on the Department of Buildings’ Issuance of Licenses to Site Safety Professionals. ME16-061A, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer (June 30, 2016).

By:  Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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