NDA's Statement On Philadelphia Building Collapse
In testimony on July 9, 2013 before the Pennsylvania House Committee on Urban Affairs concerning legislation meant to change safety
requirements for city demolition projects, the Executive Director of the National Demolition Association supported many elements of the
law but took issue with requirements on project on oversight. Specifically, the bill would require all demolition plans for commercial structures
in Class One Cities. Here is his entire statement.............
A Statement on House Bill No. 1591
I am Michael R. Taylor, Executive Director of the National Demolition Association, the trade association for the Demolition Industry in the United States and Canada. I am a graduate of St. Joseph’s, Temple, and LaSalle Universities, all located in Philadelphia and have done post-graduate work in Environmental Planning at Drexel University also in Philadelphia. I am the principal author the NDA’s Demolition Safety Manual, the bible of safe work practice for the Demolition Industry around the world and Chairman for the American National Standards Institute A10.6 Committee on Demolition Operations. I have been executive director of the Association for 22 years and was a demolition contractor with offices in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Anchorage in the 1980s. I have also served as a Municipal Manager in the state of New Jersey in the 1970s.
The NDA which was founded 40 years ago this year is headquartered in Doylestown, PA, the county seat of Bucks County, north of Philadelphia. The organization has over 800 member firms from around the world providing a wide range of services including structural dismantlement, environmental remediation, recycling, specialized rigging, industrial recovery, hazardous materials handling, landfilling, scrap processing, and general contracting, all part of the demolition process.
The industry grosses between $4 and $5 billion dollars annually which represents approximately 1% of the non-residential construction economy in the United States. We have over 40 member companies based in Pennsylvania. There are no publicly held companies. If he has a partner, it’s his brother. More than a third of NDA member firms use the family name as the company name. There are no large Boards of Directors. Even the biggest firms that work nationally are entrepreneurial entities managed by one or two individuals.
The industry is extremely productive and very capital intensive. The industry employs less than 22,000 people nationally. A typical demolition job lasts about three weeks. You don’t see 50 or 60 demolition workers with sledgehammers and wrecking bars on a demolition project site anymore. Demolition contractors use a team of highly skilled equipment operators and laborers manning hydraulic excavators and loaders with a host of demolition-specific attachments.
The Demolition Industry in the United States is highly regulated on the federal, state and local level. 29 CFR 1926, the OSHA Construction Standard has a separate section, Subpart T, specifically regulating demolition. In addition, more than half the states and municipalities have demolition-specific regulations and licensing procedures. The Demolition Industry is also highly regulated by a variety of environmental statutes on the federal, state and local level.
Founded by demolition contractors for demolition contractors, the Association is the repository for safe work practice for the industry. It provides its members with a comprehensive safety program that includes its Demolition Safety Manual, a demolition-specific Hazard Communication Program, Demolition Safety Talks used to educate workers on the jobsite, an OSHA-funded Lead-in-Construction Training program, a New Employee Orientation program, a Disaster Site Worker Training and Certification Program developed in concert with OSHA and a variety of other safety training materials.
During the recent tragic event here in Philadelphia, the Board of Directors of the National Demolition Association was meeting in Santa Monica, CA for its quarterly Board Meeting. Assembled at this meeting there were some 50 or 60 demolition contractors with literally hundreds of years of experience in the demolition process. None of them, not one, could remember an instance where a member of the general public was injured on a demolition jobsite. It simply does not happen.
The NDA and the entire Demolition Industry extends its deepest condolences to the families and friend of the people lost in this tragedy. The terrible losses here in Philadelphia, while horrific, were pure and simply unprecedented, unique, and we must do all we can to assure that they never, ever happen again.
It is also important for the committees to consider the impact of the Insurance Industry’s extensive Loss Control requirements on the demolition process. To remain competitive in the highly entrepreneurial Demolition Industry, a contractor must maintain a safe work environment to guarantee competitive insurance rates.
It is important for the committees to understand that all of these materials and programs have been successful in producing an incredibly safe industry. Accidents on demolition sites, which are perceived to be dangerous work environments, are extremely rare. Most of them are similar to the general construction industry accidents such as “hit by/struck by”, falls, and the like. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and OSHA reveal that on average, a typical demolition contractor will incur one workplace fatality every one million man-hours, well below general construction and transportation industry statistics.
The reasons for this excellent safety record are simple. First, the industry does not employ that many people nationally. The use of highly sophisticated demolition-specific equipment means that there are simply less people on a demolition jobsite.
Second, demolition contractors know the value of safety for their workers and their companies. They know the importance of protecting their most valuable resource; their highly skilled workforce. They understand that they need to maintain a safe work environment to remain competitive, to manage their insurance costs, and to protect their clients.
Third, any investment they make in assuring a safe work environment guarantees a loyal, diligent workforce and repeat business from their clients. It also assures them of compliance with the myriad government rules that regulate the demolition process.
As to proposed House Bill No. 1591, the National Demolition Association supports many elements of the proposed law.
It seems a wise idea to the Association to include a system of review of construction codes, administrators, and third party agencies charged with enforcement and administration of the proposed laws.
As OSHA 29 CFR 1926.850, the Demolition subsection of the agency’s Construction Standard requires that a written engineering survey shall be prepared, by a competent person, of the structure to determine the condition of the framing, floors, walls, and possibility of unplanned collapse of any portion of the structure… it seems practical to provide this information as part of the proposed House Bill.
Requirements concerning the maintenance of liability insurance of at least $1,000,000 could have an economic impact on certain smaller demolition projects as well as the proposed provision providing for a cash deposit or surety bond in the amount of $2 per square foot of property. For companies new to the Demolition Industry, these additional costs could have an impact on getting started in the industry.
Other elements of the proposed House Bill concerning the training of code enforcement personnel in first class cities certainly seems like an idea with some merit.
The National Demolition Association is OPPOSED to the proposed requirement in House Bill No. 1951 to require …demolition plan and schedule be prepared by a licensed architect or professional engineer.
While in no way impugning the value of these professions and the role they can sometimes play in the demolition process, they simply lack the training and education in the demolition process to oversee the work being performed by a competent demolition contractor.
The NDA strongly recommends the use of a professional engineer when an association member is confronted with a challenging structural issue on a project site. Their expertise can prove invaluable. However, few, if any, architects or professional engineers, unless they have worked in the Demolition Industry, have the training or experience to knowledgably comment on the work plans for a demolition project. Simply put, they were never trained in the demolition process which is decidedly different from the design or erection of a building.
Additionally, why would a licensed architect or professional engineer risk their valuable license or certification to review a demolition plan when they know little about the demolition process or the work practices of a modern demolition contractor?
It is also important to remember that liability for the success of a specific demolition project rest with the contractor performing the work. Third party reviewers such as those proposed in House Bill No. 1951 are unlikely to assume any of the liability for the demolition project. Therefore, why let them review the plan to conduct the demolition?
It is the position of the National Demolition Association that the best way to assure the safety of a demolition project is to provide for a regulatory system that promotes the professional competency and execution by a knowledgeable, experience demolition contractor.
The NDA’s Mission is to provide its members with the tools necessary to be leaders in environmental stewardship, safety, education, professional competency and government advocacy. We welcome the opportunity to work with Commonwealth to guarantee the safety of the general public and industry personnel.
The Association is grateful for this opportunity to comment on the proposed law.
Very truly yours,
Michael R. Taylor, CAE