Construction Safety at Issue: Crane Accident Yesterday Kills 4 and Injures over 12; Deutsche Bank Tower Contractors Fined $464K and Issued 44 Citations for Fatal Fire

Just weeks after federal safety regulators proposed fining two contractors hired to demolish the condemned ground zero skyscraper Deutsche Bank tower $464,500 and accused them of a total of 44 safety hazards at the building in connection with a fire at the building on August 18, 2007, in which two firefighters died , yesterday at about 2:20 P.M., in what the authorities called one of the city’s worst accidents, a crane towering over a high-rise construction site collapsed killing 4 people with more than a dozen others sustaining personal injuries.

The crane had been attached at various points to the side of a planned 43-story building. A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing it to detach and topple. All of the dead are believed to be members of Local 15 of the Operating Engineers Union. Damage is expected to run into the millions of dollars.

The Associated Press reports neighborhood residents saying that they had complained to the city several times about the construction at the site, saying crews worked illegal hours and the building was going up too fast. City Building Department records showed that on March 4, a caller told officials that the upper portions of the crane appeared to lack the proper number of safety ties attaching it to the building. A city inspector reportedly visited the site on March 6 and determined that no violation was warranted. (Query: Will the circumstances of the purported inspection and the results thereof now become the focus of scrutiny?)

The crane, which stood at least 19 stories high at the construction site collapsed on an apartment building, completely demolished a town house and cut away a tenement facade. The incident occurred on East 51st Street between First and Second Avenues on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The site’s principal developer has been identified as East 51st Development Company, the construction company as Reliance Construction Group (RCG), the crane owner as New York Crane & Equipment Corporation, and the crane manufacturer as Favco.

According to records from the New York City Department of Buildings, between January 17, 2006, and February 8 of this year the agency has issued 14 violations against contractors doing work at the site, 10 of them against RCG. The violations included failure to safeguard the public and property and failure to provide roof protection on adjacent property.

According to the Buildings Department, of the 14 violations, 13 remained open meaning that a court date is pending or the company did not appear at a scheduled court hearing and the violations are in default status.

There have been a number of construction accidents in recent months in New York City, including some involving cranes. At a Donald Trump hotel-condominium tower, a worker plummeted 40 stories to his death last month when a concrete form gave way. A month before that, a crane’s nylon sling broke away and dropped seven tons of steel onto a construction trailer across from ground zero, injuring an architect.

Regarding the Deutsche Bank tower fire, OSHA issued 19 citations to general contractor Bovis Lend Lease and 25 to subcontractor John Galt Corp. Galt was issued $271,500 in fines, while Bovis’ fines totaled $193,000. The fire left Firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, dead.

Most of the violations cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration were classified as serious, and five were listed as willful, the agency’s most severe category. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed “with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.” A serious citation, according to the agency, is one in which “death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

OSHA accused Bovis of willfully failing to inspect the building’s standpipe that was missing a section and to maintain it in operating condition and willfully failing to ensure there was an adequate water supply for firefighters to operate their equipment. Other willful violations included the blockage of access to the building’s stairwells by both Galt and Bovis and Galt’s failure to enforce no-smoking regulations. Smoking is believed to have started the fire at the building.

OSHA also cited the companies for hazards like blocked and unmarked exits, a lack of fire extinguishers, emergency exit signs or a fire prevention program, and allowing smoking. Smoking is believed to have started the fire at the building. Also, several scaffolds were erected too close to power lines, guardrails and stair rails were missing, and electrical wires were left exposed. The contractors exposed workers “to death or serious injury from falls, falling objects, electrocution and the inability to exit the tower swiftly and safely” in the event of a fire, the agency said.

The office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, is conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths and the entire project. The criminal inquiry is focused in part on failures by the city, including the Fire and the Buildings Departments. Four Buildings Department inspectors were assigned to the site all day, every day, and a supervisor’s only responsibility was the bank tower, but city officials have said that the Fire Department failed to inspect the building at all, as it was required to do. Prosecutors in Mr. Morgenthau’s office have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury.

The dismantling of the building has been delayed by disputes with regulators, several other accidents and the discovery of human remains of September 11 victims.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit, with offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handle construction worker and construction site accident cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas including Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients.

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