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Board Demands City Action After Woman is Killed by Flying Plywood

By Danielle Tcholakian | March 20, 2015 3:41pm | Updated on March 23, 2015 9:03am
 Tram-Thuy Nguyen, 37, died after she was hit with plywood that fell from the construction site at The Greenwich Lane, where St. Vincent's Hospital used to be, on Tuesday, March 17, 2015.
Tram-Thuy Nguyen, 37, died after she was hit with plywood that fell from the construction site at The Greenwich Lane, where St. Vincent's Hospital used to be, on Tuesday, March 17, 2015.
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NOHO — Community Board 2 wants the city to create a program to track construction safety after a woman was killed by a flying piece of plywood from a West Village construction site.

Tram-Thuy Nguyen, 37, was killed Tuesday night when high winds ripped a 4-by-8 piece of plywood from the fence around the construction site where St. Vincent's Hospital used to be, and where a massive five-building luxury development called The Greenwich Lane is being erected. 

The board introduced a resolution that called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Buildings to create a program, similar to the Vision Zero traffic safety initiative, that would shine a light on construction accidents around the city.

"There are indeed freak accidents in the world that may be unavoidable," said CB2 chair Tobi Bergman. "But construction deaths and pedestrian deaths in the street, whether they come from cars or buildings, should not happen."

Nguyen's death was personal for Bergman, and its effect on him was evident when he interrupted Thursday night's schedule to introduce the resolution.

Bergman explained he had been notified of the death by The Greenwich Lane's developers, but didn't realize who the victim was until he clicked on an emailed link to a New York Times article.

"I saw a face I knew well," Bergman said, his voice cracking. "It was a friend of mine."

Bergman said he had met Nguyen only recently, but had been struck by what a "really lively, wonderful young woman" she was. He said she moved here from Philadelphia to be with her fiancé and "always talked about how much she loved her city."

The auditorium at the Sheen Center was silent as Bergman spoke, and when he called a vote, the board members responded with an immediate, unanimous "aye."

The mayor's office did not directly address the resolution.

“There is no higher priority for the Department of Buildings, or this administration, than safety," de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell wrote in an email. "That’s why [DOB] Commissioner [Rick] Chandler is spearheading changes that will improve compliance at building sites to protect workers and the public.”

Some of those changes have already taken place, such as a new electronic scheduling system to ensure that "high priority" sites are visited quickly, and the hiring of 20 new inspectors.

"Safety initiatives" still in planning stages include rolling out the first ever industry code of conduct outlining DOB’s expectations of contractors and developers, “reforms” to the requirements for the position of site safety manager, and a push to retire old cranes, which can only be done with legislation passed by the City Council, according to a DOB spokesman.

The deputy commissioners of enforcement and legal and regulatory affairs are also looking into new ways to discipline "bad actors,” the spokesman said, and the agency plans to issue an industry-wide advisory about proper compliance in attaching fencing.

The spokesman also highlighted a portion of the recently-enacted 2014 NYC Construction Code, requiring projects like The Greenwich Lane to have fences engineered to sustain wind of 80 miles per hour or more.

Here is the full text of the resolution:

Community Board 2 is greatly saddened by the death of Tram-Thuy Nguyen, a 37-year-old resident of our community who was struck by a windblown sheet of plywood while walking along a sidewalk adjacent to the construction at the former St. Vincent’s Hospital site. We express our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

CB2 calls on the mayor and the Department of Buildings to create a program parallel to Vision Zero so that workers, residents and pedestrians are fully protected from the injuries and deaths that too frequently result from preventable accidents at construction sites throughout the city.