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Recent NYC Crane Accident Illustrates Problems With Oversight

A crane accident last month has prompted some to ask questions about crane safety in New York City. No one was killed, but the outcome could easily have been very different. Moreover, the incident that sent a huge air conditioner plunging toward the ground was the second incident involving a crane in the past few weeks. What's going on?

It seems that no one wants to talk about this or answer questions about why such incidents continue to occur. The only person willing to discuss the matter is a top crane investigator, Thomas Barth. He says that most crane accidents are the result of human rather than mechanical error. Based on his experience investigating more than 100 accidents, he posed some questions that need answers:

  • Who went over the plans?
  • Why did the rigging snap, sending the tractor-trailer size unit down 28 floors?
  • What were the design specifications?
  • Was the building able to accommodate a unit this large?

The owner of the crane company, Bay Crane Services, and the crane operator, Skylift Contractor, were involved in a previous crane accident. In that case, the crane swung, striking the side of a building. This raises another question: Who is overseeing crane operations in New York City?

The city Comptroller thinks that better management is needed to prevent accidents. Last, that agency audited the Department of Buildings, finding that the department had not implemented the crane safety requirements recommended after two crane accidents killed nine people in 2008.

Although some companies have implemented some of the recommendations, compliance is spotty. In the case of the most recent incident, a basic and commonsense precaution - shutting down the street underneath the crane - was not done, and Madison Avenue was partially open when the enormous unit fell to the ground.

The city has adopted stricter licensing and training requirements for crane operators and riggers. Old cranes have been ordered out of service. But even the simplest safety precautions seem to be overlooked such as shutting down streets and sidewalks during heavy lifts. Yesterday, Madison Avenue was still partially open when the unit crashed to the ground.

Although some, including the National Crane Association, say that NYC has some of the most stringent rules in the U.S., safety depends on more than just having regulations. It also depends on compliance and on inspections. It turns out that there are 300 cranes operating in the city, but only 32 inspectors available to ensure compliance with safety regulations.

The city Comptroller was quoted as saying about the Department of Buildings, "They have a poor record of managing safety in this city. ...they should stop making excuses and be more transparent."