News | West Harlem

Safety better at CU site, workers say

Contractors appear to be following through on their promises to increase safety at a Columbia construction site where a worker died in February.

The site, which encompasses a large lot with multiple buildings, is known as 3229 Broadway and is located at the intersection of 125th and 129th streets in Manhattanville. The buildings are being demolished as part of Columbia’s expansion plan.

Jozef Wilk, a 51-year-old employee of Breeze National, died after he suffered a heart attack and fell into an elevator shaft on Feb. 5. The Department of Buildings then issued several violations to the site, which stopped demolition for four weeks.

Breeze is a subcontractor for Bovis Lend Lease, the company that Columbia has said is in charge of the demolition project. After Wilk’s death, Bovis said in a statement that it was “committed to learning from this incident.”

On Wednesday, workers at the site said that it was apparent that more attention is being paid to safety.

“There are more people here to watch over everyone—a lot more,” said P.J. Anzelde, a worker who was attaching signs on the property. After the accident, he said, “Every single person, every new person, and everyone who was here before had to go through a reorientation.”

Johnnie Green, who works for security at the site, confirmed that workers went through an extensive reintroduction to the site when it opened.

“There are meetings every morning. … Everything’s been up to point,” he said.

Ray Master, who used to be the safety director for Bovis Lend Lease, said he has now been specially assigned to this project for the duration of the work.
Master said that certain safety protocols had changed after the incident.

“We’ve done a complete reevaluation of the deconstruction methods for the building,” he said. “There’s been a lot more training incorporated, and changes made to the training. We’ve evaluated the methods, and looked specifically at fall protection.”

He declined to comment on what led to Wilk’s fall, saying only that there were “a couple issues” involved and that the investigation is ongoing.

“Bovis Lend Lease and Breeze National performed a full review of all safety plans and presented these plans to the Department of Buildings resulting in the DOB lifting the stop work order on March 3, 2010,” Mary Costello, a spokesperson for Bovis, wrote in a statement. “Consistent with the safety plan, all work has resumed with the requirement that every worker attend a site re-orientation.”

Master seemed determined to remain vigilant about worker safety. “We think we can prevent all accidents,” he said. “We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing didn’t happen a month ago.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said that they had also done their own reinvestigation of the site, which allowed work to begin again on March 5.

On Wednesday, workers were attaching plywood to the scaffolding on the property’s main building, known as Building 5, where Wilk fell. Master said that Breeze will likely be moving ahead with that demolition in a week or so, when they receive the necessary permits.

Violation documents from the DOB indicate that Breeze and the University had hearings scheduled for April 1 with the Environmental Control Board, which issued the building violations.
Those hearings have now been adjourned until July 15. Peter Schulman, with the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which the ECB is a part of, said that this was common procedure.

“The respondents of both cases requested that the hearings be rescheduled so that the inspector who did the investigations can appear,” he said, adding that the proceedings took only a few minutes.

At the hearings, the ECB court decides whether a violation has been sufficiently fixed, and whether to impose fines.

Though Wilk was a Breeze National employee, Breeze declined repeated requests for comment on the site, changes to safety protocol, or the ECB hearings.

A Columbia spokesperson said that the University would defer to Bovis for comment.


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