Kent Diebolt was in Denver on the evening of February 5th to help celebrate the Stephen H. Hart Awards for Historic Preservation, honoring the Western Colorado Interperative Association, Anthony & Associates and the Bureau of Land Management for their work and leadership on the Hanging Flume project. Vertical Access has been involved since 2004.
by Kevin Dalton
We recently worked on an interesting project at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx. Our mission: to remove the clock hands from four clock faces on the tower of Keating Hall and one clock atop LaLande Hall in Martyrs Court.
The hands were removed and turned over to The Verdin Company so they could be restored. Once restored, the hands will be re-installed. The project was coordinated by Bob Rush with Structure Tone, Inc.
The crenellated parapet at the top of the tower on Keating had bird protection on the top of the walls so we had to lower ropes through the crenels and climb up to the clock which was about a 150’ climb from the roof of the main building below.
The clock hands were pretty big; the hour hand was a little over 6’ long and the minute hand was over 7’ long. We rigged all the hands to lower before loosening any of the nuts or bolts that connected them to the shaft.
One of the minute hands was stuck and we had a really hard time removing it. It typically took us 30-45 minutes to remove both hands on each of three out of four faces but we spent over 3 hours on the southeast face on the first day trying to remove the minute hand without success. It was a little over 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the wind was blowing 15 – 20 mph directly into my face so I decided to accept defeat and go get warm before moving onto another set of hands. We came back to the southeast face the next day with a specialty tool provided by Dennis Lindo from The Verdin Company and after a few minutes the hand was free.
We finished up the second day at Martyrs Court which was only about 50’ off the ground but in an area that is difficult to access with a lift. Due to icy conditions on the roof we thought it safer to toss the ropes out to the face of the building and climb up from the ground. After almost 1,000’ of vertical climbing at Keating Hall 50’ was a walk in the park.
When I arrived at the clock face I had the minute hand off in a matter of minutes but the hour hand looked like it might take hours to remove. It was completely rusted onto the shaft and wouldn’t budge. Luckily the entire mechanism is being replaced so Dennis cut the shaft from the inside with a reciprocating saw. The white part of the clock is just a thin piece of glass (probably 1/8” thick) so we had to saw very carefully. Fortunately we were able to keep the shaft off the glass and the hand came off without incident.
By Kent Diebolt
One of the state-specific challenges of doing business in New York has to do with two little-known New York State Labor Law statutes from the late 19th Century. Described as necessary and good laws when they were passed in 1885, things have changed in the last century, particularly with the advent of mandatory Workers’ Compensation insurance and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations passed in the early 1970s.
Intended to protect construction workers and also known as NYS Labor Laws 240/241, these statutes place “absolute liability” on the contractor and building owner for injuries or fatalities resulting from a fall from height. In cases such as this, the entire onus is on the employer and no findings of liability on the part of the employee are permitted. Liability on the part of the employer is assumed in all cases and the concept of proportionality of responsibility or use of recalcitrant worker or culpable conduct defense may not be considered by the courts and by statute, are considered irrelevant to these cases.
Findings of fault without a jury trial or damages result and judgment are made by a trial judge. However, since the defendant (employer) is de-facto guilty and cannot defend against claims, virtually all of these cases result in a guilty judgment or a settlement associated with very high costs for the insurance companies involved. Hearings for settlement amounts are made in front of a jury and since the guilty judgement has already been rendered, the awards tend to be “huge”. If they are held at all, mediation hearings essentially determine the amount of damages, since culpability has been established by statute.
At one time, all 50 states had similar legislation on their books but with the exception of New York State, these were all repealed or reformed subsequent to OSHA and worker’s compensation legislation. As a result, worker’s compensation is the sole recourse in these states unless negligence can be demonstrated on the part of the employer. Similar to the other 49 states, proposed reform of New York State’s 240/241 will not eliminate the rights of a worker to sue an employer for negligence but will allow employers to defend themselves in court. Reform would allow owners/contractors to present evidence, which is not presently allowed.
A Toxic Insurance Environment in New York State
All of this has resulted in a toxic insurance environment in New York State, with general liability and worker’s compensation premiums for companies that employ workers at height far exceeding the average rates in the rest of the country. Many insurance companies have left the New York State market because of the high frequency of successful claims, their inability to defend against claims and the severity of the rewards that result.
240/241 statures are kept in place due to political influence brought to bear primarily by labor unions and various New York State tort lawyer associations. Since a percentage of the awards are taken by the law firm, 240/241 cases represent very little risk associated with extremely high rewards to law firms trying these cases. Minor risk with very high, guaranteed returns result in a steady income stream for these law firms. Essentially, all a plaintiff’s attorney must do is establish the case as a 240/241 legal case. Historically, these cases have been broadly interpreted and are rarely turned down by the courts. Once in the courts, high rewards are all but guaranteed. Once a summary judgment is granted, interest is applied at 9% per year until the case is finally resolved.
In the last year, I have attended two excellent programs on this topic. The first was organized in March 2013 by the Greater New York Construction User Council. The second was in mid-January of this year, and was organized by the New York City Master Riggers Association, which hosted keynote speaker Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.
Tom presented historic background on 240/241, comparisons to insurance costs in other states and an excellent overview of the current situation in Albany. LRANY has also organized an industry lobbying day in Albany, set for early February. A link to download the presentation is provided below.
The issue of New York’s Labor Laws 240/241 is one that needs to be addressed. It is a major reason for the high cost of construction and buildings maintenance in New York State and is significant contributor to a lack of competitiveness both between neighboring states as well as within the state.
The Scaffold Law and the Campaign for Reform (Tom Stebbins’ presentation, PDF download)
Scaffold Law Reform website
Contractors and Workers at Odds Over Scaffold Law, by Kirk Semple, New York Times, December 17, 2013.
Once one of the most popular attractions in New York City, today Grant’s Tomb is off the beaten track tread by most visitors to Manhattan. Constructed with the assistance of donations from 90,000 people totaling $600,000, the most money raised for a public monument at the time, the structure later suffered from neglect and fell into decline. Although it stands on a prominent point of Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson River, Grant’s Tomb is hidden in plain sight, with relatively few people venturing inside the mausoleum that contains the remains of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant.
Grant’s Tomb was designed by New York architect John H. Duncan and constructed between 1891 and 1897. The exterior is based on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the interior is modeled after the Tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides in Paris. On the exterior, the structure consists of a square base surmounted by a conical dome with a tall, colonnaded drum level, all faced with granite. The main entry on the south side of the structure is distinguished by a wide plaza with steps leading up to a portico covering monumental bronze doors. The ground floor has a large oculus through which the sarcophagi on the floor below can be seen. Polished marble from Massachusetts is used for the interior floor surfaces and the railings, trim and dados at the walls of the ground floor and basement are clad with Italian marble. The upper areas of the interior, including four barrel vaults facing the cardinal directions of the base of the monument, the pendentives where the square base transitions to the dome, the gallery at the drum level and the coffered ceiling at the interior dome, are faced with ornamental cast plaster.
The Grant Monument Association operated Grant’s Tomb until 1959, at which time the National Park Service took over management control and the site was designated as General Grant National Memorial. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, visitors who ventured to Grant’s Tomb would find the granite walls of the monument covered with graffiti, the glass in the windows broken and the site in an overall state of disrepair. Finally, faced with public criticism and a threat from the Illinois state legislature to move the remains of the Grants to their state, the federal government undertook much-needed repairs. Following the restoration effort, the monument was re-dedicated on April 27, 1997.
As part of a site inspection of the General Grant National Memorial performed in 2012, National Park Service staff identified areas of cracking at the interior plaster at the drum level of the rotunda. Some of the plaster at the pilasters at this area appeared detached. The National Park Service requested the services of Vertical Access to perform a hands-on investigation of the plaster pilasters to better understand the causes of the cracks and determine whether the current condition presented an immediate public safety hazard.
As part of the investigation of the interior plaster, Vertical Access utilized several non-destructive and diagnostic tools. As a first step, VA laid out the location of rigging holes in the coffered ceiling for the industrial rope access approach. To locate the first rigging hole at the ceiling, a self-leveling laser level positioned on the ground floor was first used to establish the plumb line for the drop ropes in front of one of the pilasters. To confirm which coffer was in line with the center of the pilaster when viewed from the attic side of the ceiling, the unfinished attic side of the coffer was warmed with a heat gun and the finished interior side was viewed with an infrared camera from the ground level.
Once drop ropes were in place, Vertical Access technicians performed the hands-on investigation of the plaster pilasters, using diagnostic tools to better understand the construction of the pilasters and further investigate conditions of deterioration observed at the face of the pilasters. A wall tie locator and rigid tube borescopes with a 0° (straight ahead) and 90° (right angle) direction of view as well as a 36”-long flexible tube borescope were employed during the investigation. A video camera attached to the borescope unit provided recorded documentation of the subsurface conditions. The cast plaster sections of the pilasters appear to be attached to the brick back-up structure with wood blocking. Metal elements including wire ties and nails appear to have been used but no evidence of straps or anchors into the plaster was found.
Conditions identified during the hands-on and close visual examination of the interior plaster were documented using annotated drawings, still photography and video. At the conclusion of the investigation, Vertical Access installed crack monitors at two different pilasters. Although the condition of the interior plaster does not represent an immediate threat to public safety, the crack monitors will be used to help determine whether the cracks observed are active.
* From Groucho Marx in the game show “You Bet Your Life”. The correct answer is no one, since Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia are entombed but not buried in the memorial.
 Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone New York: A Field Guide to New York City Area Cemeteries & their Residents: Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2011. Page 142.
Congratulations to Kevin Dalton on becoming our newest SPRAT Level 3 technician! In just a short couple of years, Kevin has logged over 1,000 hours on rope and learned the complex skills required of Level 3 technicians.
Last week, Keith Luscinski and Kevin traveled to Vertical Rescue Solutions in Denver for four days of rope access training, followed by a rigorous 8-hour-long evaluation. Both passing with flying colors, Keith renewed his Level 3 certification for another 3 years and Kevin moved up from his previous Level 2 certification. Four of Vertical Access’ seven technicians are now certified to SPRAT’s highest level.
The SPRAT Level 3 certification is difficult to achieve, requiring over 1,000 hours on rope, knowledge of complex rope systems and the ability to rescue an incapacitated coworker from any conceivable rope access system. The full-day evaluation consists of three parts: a written test, an oral exam and a practical evaluation. The written test takes about an hour and covers one’s knowledge of rope access regulations and standards. During the oral exam, candidates are grilled on their equipment and job-site safety procedures.
The practical evaluation takes up the remainder of the test day, and is an exhausting process for Level 3 candidates. Level 3 candidates must hoist a 200-pound “casualty” and move it through various rope access obstacles. Anywhere that a Level 1 technician could conceivably get himself stuck is somewhere that a Level 3 technician has to be able to perform a rescue. The practical evaluation also tests candidates’ ability to build mechanical advantage systems, tie a plethora of knots, construct anchors and use conventional fall protection devices.
Keith and Kevin enjoyed having a week to hone their skills but are now appreciating a few days in the office to recover from a strenuous week.
Next Session: SE University Dec 11- Design of Maintenance Access and Fall Protection Systems for New and Existing BuildingsDecember 4, 2013
Ideally planned for and designed into a building, access systems for ease of continued maintenance are often value-engineered out of important projects, leading to interesting access challenges. Engineers must work with clients to engineer a range of potential solutions that are then evaluated for cost, ease of use and other parameters so that in-house and contracted maintenance can be completed safely and efficiently.
Applicable state and federal standards will be reviewed and case studies, including Islip Courthouse, New York Times Building Mast and the New York Public Library, will be discussed.
Speaker: Kelly Streeter, PE, Vertical Access
About SE University
SE University is a subscription based continuing education resource for structural engineers which reduces continuing education costs while providing content that helps increase productivity and profit and reduce risk. SE University delivers 12-18 web based seminars per year on a wide variety of topics impacting structural engineers.