Crane Collapses: Coincidental or Criminal?

Published July 09, 2008

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Donald Leo was supposed to be waiting at the end of the aisle for his fiancée on their wedding day, June 21. He was supposed to have the jittery butterflies that most grooms get on their wedding day. But Donald won't be making it to the church after all - he was killed on May 30, along with another man. Why… because of a crane collapse in New York City.

On Donald's last day he was operating a crane that collapsed. The crane's arm (used to hoist materials) snapped off its turntable, the platter-like platform that holds the cab for the operator. The cab and the arm flopped to one side and then went into freefall causing it to slam into a 23-story building.

If you're feeling a little déjà vu, you're correct because the same thing happened in New York City on March 15, when an entire crane collapsed and killed seven people. So far this year, 15 people have died in construction-related accidents in NYC, compared to 12 in all in 2007. These are very serious incidences that have prompted the question of whether crane regulations are just not strict enough.

The Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg said an “unacceptably high number” of fatalities demanded an “unprecedented” level of reform. Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have unveiled a 13-point legislative package to broaden oversight of building sites, increase fines for violations, and register all key contractors.

Investigators believe that the turntable that snapped off in the May disaster had been cracked and repaired last year. Now city investigators and prosecutors are asking whether the Buildings Department officials properly monitored the journey of that turntable after it was damaged. The acting chief inspector for the unit was arrested and charged with taking bribes to approve cranes under his review, and with taking money from a crane company that sought to ensure that its employees would pass the licensing exam. The inspector could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. After the March collapse, a crane inspector was arrested and charged with faking a report that he had visited a construction crane at that site on March 4. The inspector, the authorities said, never visited the crane.

“Buildings Department statistics have shown that the number of crane inspectors has barely changed since the 1980s, even as the city has experienced a historic building boom.” Today, the cranes division has just four inspectors, although the agency recently hired a private firm to assist in inspections. And Mayor Bloomberg suggested that New York may have to bolster its inspection process to better police the city's tower cranes: “It may be that we don't have all of the checks and balances that we should have, and that's why we're trying to gather information.”

The Federal Government has certain requirements when it comes to crane operators and inspectors that all states must abide by, such as a thorough inspection by a competent person annually of the crane. Some states have stepped up to ensure more rigorous operator and inspector requirements. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) encourage states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. There are 24 states that have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, the adopted standards are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some states have adopted additional standards. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), a non-profit organization that develops standards for safe crane operation, created an accreditation program through written and practical tests for crane operators. The adoption of this accreditation program is optional for states, and only 15 states along with six cities have adopted it, New York being one of them.

New York is not the only state with cranes collapsing. On June 9, in Miami, the arm portion of a crane, being used to build a condominium complex, swung down and seriously injured a worker. A father and son team were lengthening the crane when it gave way. The father was injured - miraculously, the son was not physically hurt. This happened only months after a fatal crane accident where a collapse killed two workers in Miami. Some cities are trying to take steps to control this unnerving trend. Miami and Dade County have created ordinances to strengthen oversight of crane operators, but last month a Federal Court ordered a temporary halt to the enforcement of the ordinances.

In other states, the regulations seem to be working. California has gone 19 years without a single fatality from a crane accident. After a terrible crane collapse in San Francisco in 1989, California adopted the toughest regulations of the entire country. Some contribute California's amazing record to two aspects - the use of third party inspectors, and the need for an inspector or manufacture's representative to be present whenever a crane is being raised or lowered. The need for independent inspectors has been heightened, especially with the recent arrest of the Acting Chief Inspector for Cranes and Derricks in New York for accepting bribes. And California has shown us that stricter regulations would not hurt the industry.

Bottom-line: It's not a good idea to let crane companies regulate themselves. They are far from being able to be objective. State, county, or even the federal government should be creating stricter regulations. It's time to stop arguing over who should regulate, and it's time to create a solution - before more people are hurt, or worse.


Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/31/nyregion/31collapse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin#

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/05/nyregion/05safety.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/nyregion/08building.html

OSHA 1926.550

Jennifer Lebovich & Evan S. Benn, Crane Secured After Accident, MIAMI HERALD.COM, June 09, 2008

Daimen Cave, Two Workers Are Killed in Miami Crane Accident, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 26, 2008.

Theresa Agovino, Tough Measures, No Accidents and Lower Costs, CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS, Jun. 9, 2008.


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.

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