Industrial Crane Accidents

Industrial cranes are a primary component of the construction and manufacturing industry across the country. The safety of the workers operating around the equipment and those outside the construction site should be viewed more importunately then the completion of a project. It is vitally important that all construction companies develop, administer and constantly review all of their operations for compliance with industrial standards as well as governmental regulations. There is an inherent danger with industrial crane operations, from the set up, to the movement of loads to the dismantling and removal of the crane from the site.

Employees that work for each construction company, whether an operator, supervisor, rigger or laborer, all must be trained and motivated to always do the right thing when it comes to safety. There should never be a reason for taking a short cut to save time or money at the expense of safety. The reputation of a construction company and the construction industry in general is placed at risk when it employs approaches to operations that are risky to its employees and the general public.

It should be crystal clear that construction companies have a lot to lose should they choose to operate in a manner that does not show appreciation for the vital role that an experienced safety department can play in ensuring ethical, legal and successful operations. A casual review of several hundred industrial crane incidents and an in-depth review of several dozen events involving industrial cranes has opened my eyes to what should be classified by OSHA as an epidemic. OSHA had not substantively updated 29 CFR 1926 subpart “N”, the rules for industrial cranes, since 1971.

In 1988 an amendment was formatted for personnel on platforms or man baskets and in 1993 an amendment was formatted to keep personnel clear of lifting or suspended loads (Federal Register: Vol. 73, No. 197). Following many years of meeting with industrial professionals and public comment periods, in November 2010 OSHA promulgated the final rules to 29 CFR Part 1926 Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard (Federal Register: Vol. 75, No. 152). The advancements in technology of crane and derrick manufacturing coupled with the alarming increase in worker fatalities, new rules were established to make the use of cranes and derricks safer.

Review of Industrial Crane Accidents: In 2005 a 100-ton crane crashed to the ground at a condominium complex being built in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Three construction workers were severely injured during the crane collapse. An investigation by OSHA concluded that the crane operator had lodged a penny in the safety override switch of the control panel to allow the crane to pick heavier loads and make the crane easier to operate (CraneAccidents. com 2007). On July 18, 2008 at the Lyondell/Bassell Refinery in Houston, Texas a Versacrane TC 36000 series crane was being set up for a plant turn-around.

The Versacrane’s main boom was 420 feet with a mast of 240 feet and a rated lifting capacity over one million pounds. The crane was preparing to remove the coker drum header from the coker unit. While connecting the crane’s mast to a traveling counterweight the main boom was elevated to a vertical or “overhaul” position causing the crane to topple over backwards. During the collapse of the Versacrane, a second crane, being used to set up the Versacrane was hit and it too collapsed. The ensuing investigation identified two major failures.

The operator of the Versacrane had never operated the crane before, against company policy, and the crane company superintendent ignored company policy regarding crane operations and crane alarm settings. Four workers were critically injured and succumbed to their injuries (Ammons 2010). An incident occurred in Kentucky when a truck driver standing inside the swing radius of a HTC-835 crane was struck and killed when the crane counterweight swung around and struck him in the back. The workers body as found pinned between the crane’s counterweight and the truck being unloaded.

The accident was a grim reminder that barricades and personnel positioning must be continuously preached (CraneAccidents. com, 2009). A Lampson 1000-ton lattice work crane collapsed during a plant expansion project in Beaumont, Texas in 1991. The crane had just finished lifting a 950 ton vessel from the horizontal position to the vertical position, and began to slowly travel to the vessels resting spot. The crane was traveling on timber mats which sat on top of compacted fill dirt. As the counterweight unit crossed onto one of the mats it shifted creating an immediate strain on the entire crane.

The operator had no time to react and the boom failed. Fortunately the vessel landed upright on the crane mats. The root cause investigation found that a recent rain storm washed away some of the base fill dirt from under the crane mats opening a void causing the traveling counterweight to shift thus throwing the crane off balance (CraneAccidents. com, 2010). In 1997 an employee for a crane service company was killed while working on top of a portable tower crane. The crane was set up at a large wind farm, to assemble a wind turbine.

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The crane was positioned adjacent to the metal column for the windmill and the outriggers were fully extended, 27 feet total. The crew was preparing to place a 20-ton generator on top of the 140-foot windmill column. The victim was working on top of the crane platform charging a battery for the winch engine on the crane when a shower of hydraulic oil spewed from the base of the crane and the right outrigger slid off its footing. The 180 foot crane fell to the north, away from the windmill tower.

The outrigger that failed was setting on freshly packed dirt immediately adjacent to the footing for the windmill column. It is assumed that the freshly packed dirt caved in allowing the outrigger to sink and slide off its base (Johnson, 1997). Discussion of Causes: In the first incident the operator negated a critical safety component of the cranes operation in order to continue operating without continuously resetting the cranes manual override button on the control panel. This is a direct reflection of poor or lack of, operator training.

This was a direct violation of 29 CFR 1926. 1417. Most likely, this is not the first time this operator expected the crane to do more then the computer says it could do. This unfortunately is a very common occurrence in the construction industry. The mind set of some crane operators and supervisors is that the built-in computer system has too much of a safety factor built in and the operators know the limits of the crane by feel. In the second incident, the crane company superintendent neglected to follow established company safety policies twice.

Once by allowing an inexperienced operator, a violation of 29 CFR 1926. 1427, first time he ever operated the Versacrane, and a second time by disregarding or disabling the crane boom elevation alarm settings violating 29 CFR 1926. 1415. This boom elevation alarm is set to notify the operator that elevation of the boom is approaching a vertical or “overhaul” position. The third incident is a pure and simple case of the operator or supervisor not enforcing a safety zone or swing radius around the crane in violation of 29 CFR 1926. 1424. Furthermore, the project supervisor allowed he driver of the truck being unloaded to be in the safety zone since he was friends with the operator. The fourth incident cause can be pinpointed to the lack of proper site inspection following changing weather conditions violating both 29 CFR 1926. 1402 and 1926. 1404. The compacted soil beneath the timber mats had been washed away due to a rain event creating a void space that the counterweight unit was tracking over. The final incident was caused by two separate and non related factors. The winch engine had failed the previous day when the winch engine battery would not stay charged.

The project was shut down and scheduled to resume the following morning. The next morning a battery charger was elevated to the winch motor for charging and the lift was started, this was due to poor maintenance of the crane that led to the first failure. The second cause can be attributed to poor soil compaction at the base of the crane allowing the outrigger to sink and slip off its cribbing. This is potentially a signal that job completion was more important then completing a daily inspection that is recommended by the crane manufacturer as well as violating 29 CFR 1926. 402 and 1926. 1404(q). Comments and Analysis: I chose five separate incidents to review and analyze as to their causes. The failures experienced in these five incidents can be narrowed down to five causes; lack of proper training 29 CFR 1926. 1430, inexperience or lacking operator qualification and certification 29 CFR 1926. 1427, neglecting established and documented company policies, improper or lack of crane and working surface inspections 29 CFR 1926. 1402 and lack of preventative maintenance.

During my research I reviewed many other crane accidents that were both described in writing and photo-documented with still and video footage of the actual failure or their results. Three additional causes were noted in most of these crane accidents; short jacking, or not extending the cranes outriggers to their maximum extension 29 CFR 1926. 1404, contacting live power lines 29 CFR 1926. 1408(g), and picking objects that are over the rated capacity or safety limit of the crane 29 CFR 1926. 1417. I was surprised to find a lack of updated statistics on crane accidents, injuries and fatalities in the industry.

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The latest published statistics found were released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in July 2008 covering only fatalities from 1997 through 2006. Even though the latest rules were promulgated in 2010, references were made in the Federal Register to the BLS statistics identifying the average death toll is 82 fatalities per year. Crane-related fatal occupational injuries (1), 1997-2006 1997199819992000200120022003200420052006 97938090728062878572 (1) Includes fatalities where the source of injury was a crane, where the secondary source of the injury was a crane, or where the worker activity was operating a crane.

U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in cooperation with State, New York City, District of Columbia, and Federal agencies. “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries”. The following pie chart clearly illustrates the mechanism behind the average number of fatalities per year. It is also a good indicator that not many construction companies, professional organizations or governmental agencies are paying close attention to what I perceive as an epidemic in the industrial crane and derrick industry.

The cause of the average 82 fatalities per year is divided into the following 12 categories: (Federal Register, 2010) An unfortunate missing statistic that would be helpful in gauging this problem would be crane and derrick related injuries. After search multiple online resources and contacting the local OSHA field office in Dallas, Texas, I found that this type of data is only available through a thorough review the OSHA logs for all companies that utilize cranes and derricks, then compiling the statistics.

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), the crane operators union, published a document, assumed to cover the period between 1984 through 1994. The union document identified 502 workers killed in 480 separate accidents across the United States. The causes of these fatalities was broken down into five categories; contact with power lines, assembling or disassembling, crane boom buckling, rigging failures, and crane upset. Missing from this data is 27 percent that I added to the pie chart as unknown. (CraneAccidents. com 2008).

According to the crane accidents. com website, there are over 105 thousand industrial cranes operating throughout the world daily. With the above described statistics being just for the United States, coupling them with the laws written and followed by most U. S. based contractors, it would be amazing to see just how many injuries and fatalities occur annually throughout the world. I believe this data would open the eyes of the decision makers in the crane industry along with governmental agencies whose mission it is to protect workers safety and health.

The need for the use of cranes in construction and general industry will never end. The potential that cranes have in causing catastrophic incidents is known all too well. Organizations that use cranes for the most part train their operators, service their equipment and operate within safe parameters. The companies that choose to operate outside the safety parameters; overriding safety stops, not following industry guidelines, shortcutting procedures to save time and money, and deferring maintenance are totally irresponsible. These actions place workers and the general public in harms way.

Irresponsibility of operators and supervisory staff that push the limits of cranes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. From a management perspective, the causes of crane accidents can be classified in at least five different dimensions. Irresponsibility, poor assessments and inspections, poor policy making and enforcement, lack of appreciation of the potential that cranes have in damaging properties and lives and a lack of an effective system to develop awareness of problems. Irresponsibility equates to several actions with the most prominent being workers allowed to work under an elevated or suspended load.

Poor assessment and inspections equate to using cranes that have not been inspected properly or following manufacturer’s recommendations on the frequency or periodic basis (Asfahl, 2010, p. 305). Poor policy making and enforcement equate to giving employees the tools but not holding them accountable for their use or selectively enforcing the rules based on employee tenure. Appreciation for the potential for damage can be best expressed through constant reminders, safety meeting or messages, and a thorough review of all accidents and incidents while holding those responsible accountable.

Finally, the development of an awareness culture for all employees instilling the concept of “doing the right thing, every time, no matter what” is the only course of action for the company. Summary Once I began looking at news articles, publications and researching cases, I found an alarming number of incidents around the world with little or no governmental or construction trade organization intervention. Addressing the severe rise in industrial crane incidents should be a challenge for the construction industry before another worker or operator is injured or killed on the job.

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OSHA alone is not the answer to reducing the prevalence of the crane accidents. Each company that utilizes cranes must establish and maintain strict policies and procedures for their use. Although legal intervention measures can force crane companies to put in place effective safety measures, development of an appreciation of safety is vital to ensuring that measures are put in place. The latest update of 29 CFR 1926, although very late in coming, should become the benchmark for all companies that operate cranes and derricks no matter their size.

It is very unfortunate that a small number of companies must comply with the letter and spirit of these regulations. Small businesses objected to the severity of the rules written and OSHA was required to comply with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA). This process required OSHA to draft an initial regulatory flexibility analysis and evaluate the public comments of the rules potential impact on small entities and identify the type of small entities that may be affected by the rule.

In accordance with SBREFA, OSHA then convened a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel to look into the costs associated with compliance. Individuals who were representatives of affected small entities were identified for the purpose of obtaining advice and recommendations regarding the potential impacts of the proposed rules (Federal Register: Vol. 75, No. 152). The comments received basically allowed small business to continue working with their equipment and the rules they must follow are strict but they are given leeway in interpretation of compliance.

Several industries, such as home construction, are required to comply with the newly adopted regulations but are given additional time and resources. The unfortunate part about small businesses crying about too much OSHA oversight, no matter the industry, is the fact that a large part of accidents and incidents involving cranes are created by small businesses trying to do too much with too little. By developing awareness, highlighting those companies with outstanding and also hose with poor performance records and helping victims seek legal justice; OSHA and the industrial crane industry will have to take notice and implement corrective actions to stem the tide of fatalities. Responsibility is a personal issue that must be spread throughout the industries that utilize cranes and derricks. Mandatory safety training, 29 CFR 1926. 1430, and certification for all crane operators 29CFR 1926. 1427, supervisors 29CFR 1910. 179-184, riggers 29 CFR 1926. 1404 (r)(1) and laborers would ensure that they know their jobs and their rights to work in safe environments.

Each employee no matter their position must accept the authority and responsibility to stop any job that is being done in an unsafe manner. Through the development of awareness of risks presented by the environment they are in, workplace safety with regard to crane operations will be greatly enhanced. It is only after the appreciation of risks has been developed that an effective program for addressing these risks and can be developed. References CraneAccidents. com (2008), “Crane Accidents Statistics”, Retrieved from http//www. craneaccidents. om/stats Federal Register, United States Department of Labor, (Volume 73, Number 197) OSHA 29 CFR 1926, “Crane and Derricks in Construction”, Proposed Rules, 2008 Federal Register, United States Department of Labor, (Volume 75, Number 152) OSHA 29 CFR 1926, “Crane and Derricks in Construction”, Final Rule, CraneAccidents. com (2007), “Penny Caused ’05 Jacksonville Beach Crane Collapse”, 2007, Retrieved from http//www. craneaccidents. com/victims Ammons, Rob. “Mammoth Crane Collapse Claim Settled”: Houston Chronicle, 2010, Retrieved from http//www. ammonslaw. com Johnson, Rautiainen. Mobile tower crane falls 180 feet to the ground killing the crane operator”. Institute for Rural & Environmental Health, University of Iowa; 1997. CraneAccidents. com (2009), “Crane Accidents Statistics”, Retrieved from http//www. craneaccidents. com/stats CraneAccidents. com (2010), “Lampson 1000-ton”, Retrieved from http//www. craneaccidents. com/articles Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): “Fatality Data from the 2006 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2008, Retrieved from www. bls. gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/osh_crane_2006. pdf Asfahl, Ray C. Industrial Safety and Health Management, New York, NY: Prentice Hall 2010 p-305