Council Committee hears from building trades experts on demolition safety

Bobby Henon. (Akira Suwa)

The city's building trades' experts told a Council Investigatory Committee, established to look into the deadly Center City building collapse, that more needs to be done to ensure construction sites are safe.

"We do not have any kind of protocol for demolition," said Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building Trades. "We have a lot of license requirements, but no one enforces things."

Before a four-story building that was being demolished collapsed onto a neighboring thrift store on 22nd Street near Market earlier this month leaving six people dead and 13 injured, the city had no regulations in place for private demolitions. That has since changed. (See earlier coverage here for more on those changes.)

Members of the building trades industry stressed the importance of annual training to ensure workers are up-to-date on construction safety. Experts say worker training can cost up to $3 million annually. 

Meanwhile Councilman Bobby Henon said the requirements for becoming a licensed contractor are far too lax. 

"I can get anybody sitting in this audience a contractor's license," Henon said. "The requirements are a $200 fee, an EIN number and a commercial activity license and proof of insurance, workers' compensation and that's it to become a licensed contractor."

"I say that to say how critical it is to have any and every worker on the site trained to know what to look out for when constructing or demolishing any type of building," Henon said.

Councilman Jim Kenney said he and Henon will introduce legislation in the fall that will require that anyone pulling a permit for demolition is trained. 

But Kenney said city departments including the Department of Licenses and Inspection and the Revenue Department need to work together to ensure contractors are tax compliant and that the cost of the job listed on the permit is accurate.

The demolition permit pulled by expediter Plato Marinakos listed the cost of the demolition of the Center City building at $10,000, but attorneys for the contractor hired said it cost $112,000.