Hearings Shed Light on Philadelphia Building Collapse

Hearings Shed Light on Philadelphia Building Collapse

July 1, 2013

Public hearings were held last month as the City of Philadelphia investigates how to prevent tragic demolition accident such as the one resulting in the deaths of six people in June.

The excavator operator accused of manslaughter was reportedly under the influence of marijuana, and bail has been set at $1.6 million. Prosecutors allege the man has a history of “run-ins with the law” and suggest he might be a flight risk since he is not a U.S. citizen.

In public hearings following the accident, some have suggested that the City of Philadelphia may not have enforced the regulations already in place. Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trade Council, a union, has been quoted in news reports as saying, “The sobering fact is that we do not have ensconced in any kind of ordinance at all, or permitting process, a protocol for demolition. Then you peel back the curtain and we have an awful lot of licensing requirements that have a total lack of enforcement—no one enforces things.”

These hearings are an excellent first step, and the City must examine the enforcement of existing regulations. Reports indicate the City has standards for demolition on city-owned properties and for projects done by union demolition companies, but does not regulate demolition on private property.

Other comments from the public hearings suggest familiar moves, including training in recognizing hazards, following existing OSHA standards, and whistleblower protections. They also reveal the situation in which an accident such as this building collapse puts the demolition industry: The successful operation of well-run—union and nonunion—demolition firms now face more regulation because of the irresponsible and deadly actions of a few.

Related: Site inspector commits suicide.