Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pain In The Crane: The Spike in Crane Accidents

The collapse of a 380-foot construction crane in Queens last month surprised workers below. However, the scene is depressingly familiar - just part of a recent spike in crane accidents that has plagued city jobsites. A laborer lost fingers because a crane job was not properly supervised. A worker’s leg was crushed when a crane knocked a load of concrete onto him. A worker was knocked off a beam by a swinging load, and fell 32 feet. Cranes have tipped over, smashed into buildings and dropped huge payloads. Operators have swung bundles of steel over busy city streets and picked up loads much heavier than their machines can handle. And, it is getting worse.

The night Hurricane Sandy hit, a tower crane at the One57 project flipped and dangled over West 57th Street for days.

Then a crane collapsed while picking up a huge air conditioner, landing across a busy Manhattan street. Days later, a third crane dropped an industrial chiller in the Bronx, crushing a worker.

Last week, the city accused the operator of the Long Island City crane of taking a shortcut and suspended his license, claiming he was trying to lift a load twice as heavy as the crane could handle.

Construction accidents are on the rise as oversight of job sites has dropped off dramatically. In the past few years, the number of city crane inspectors has dropped to four from 10, with the city increasingly relying on contractors to police themselves.

Sometimes, however, those 'eyes and ears' cover up accidents involving cranes. Records reveal owners are not maintaining the huge machines and many crane operators are not using them safely.

This was a particular concern on the No. 7 subway extension project, when a worker was killed in a crane collapse last year.

On April 3, a 160-foot tractor crane owned by Yonkers Contracting, which the MTA hired to work on the No. 7 subway extension, collapsed, killing one laborer and seriously injuring another.

Outraged officials immediately demanded to know how such a thing could happen.

The job site was plagued by safety problems before, during and even after that accident, with the MTA’s onsite safety manager, repeatedly accusing Yonkers of cover-ups and willfully ignoring safety rules.

Two months before the fatal accident, there were two other accidents with injuries, including one in which a worker was hit in the head by a load of plywood being lifted by a crane.

“Had the proper procedures been followed, this incident and this worker’s death could have been prevented,” said Kay Gee, an official with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “There are a multitude of factors that must be explored and investigated.”

Wakefield found the crane operator could not see what he was doing, even with a signalman, and that both victim and signalman did not have proper training per OSHA.

Last February 10, the MTA held safety training at the site, and required that all trades have proper training for signal person and emergency procedures. Yet more than a month and a half later, the company had still not hired a backup safety officer — a key requirement.

Six days later the crane collapsed, killing 30-year-old hardhat Michael Simmermeyer.

In October, OSHA charged Yonkers Contracting had failed to inspect the aging crane and missed obvious evidence that the hoist wire holding up the boom was badly worn. It fined Yonkers $68,000 — an inadequate amount, given the alleged negligence which caused the worker’s death.

Problems have also surfaced at the city's most famous construction site — Ground Zero. At 4 World Trade Center, investigators found problems with tower cranes that dropped huge loads of steel — twice.

Both times crane owners had failed to notice large amounts of water had built up inside the hydraulic fluid in the cranes’ hoist machines, a Port Authority investigation found.

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