An Analysis of Crane-Related Deaths at Construction Sites and Recommendations for Their Prevention

The New York City crane collapses of March 15, 2008, and May 30, 2008, and the collapse of a 20-foot crane section in Miami that fell 30 stories, killing two construction workers and injuring five, set off an alarm within the construction community and city dwellers. An in-depth report on U.S.  fatal crane incidents made by The Center for Construction Research and Training in response to these incidents found the number of crane-related deaths among construction workers is significant, with an average of 22 workers killed annually.

The reports findings, released this past June, used Bureau of Labor Statistics worker fatality data from 1992 to 2006 on construction workers: the numbers and causes of death, the trades of workers involved, the size of employers, and types of cranes involved. The CPWRs website advises that the report will undergo a revision with new data in the near future. A total of 323 construction worker deaths involving 307 crane incidents were identified from 1992-2006.

Four main types of cranes have been associated with crane-related fatalities. Of the 307 fatal crane incidents, 216 (71%) involved mobile or truck cranes. Sixteen of the fatal incidents involved tower cranes (5%), 13 involved floating or barge cranes (4%), and 12 involved overhead cranes (4%). The remaining 66 reports were not sufficiently detailed to determine the type of crane involved or do not meet BLS publication requirements.

Causes of death Of the total 323 crane-related deaths, 102 were caused by overhead power line electrocutions (32%), 68 deaths were associated with crane collapses (21%), and 59 deaths involved a construction worker being struck by a crane boom/jib (18%). Half of all electrocutions, the leading cause of death, were associated with the crane boom or a crane cable contacting an overhead power line. The rest involved contact of an overhead power line with unspecified parts of the crane. Mobile cranes were involved in 80 of the 95 overhead power line fatal incidents.

Activities leading to electrocutions: workers on foot touching or guiding the crane load or cables, workers operating the crane including several operators who were electrocuted after jumping from the crane, and workers on foot touching the crane.

Crane collapses were the second leading cause of death. An unstable, uneven or icy surface on which the crane was sitting accounted for 12 fatalities (20%). Overloading the crane accounted for another 10 deaths (16%). In five cases (8%), the crane load or boom shifted. In 56% percent of the reported cases, there was no information provided as to the cause in the CFOI narrative. Of the 59 crane collapses, 37 involved mobile cranes.

The third leading cause of crane-related deaths is struck by the crane boom or jib. Fifty two of the 59 struck-by crane booms or jib deaths were caused by a falling boom or jib. Almost half of these deaths (48%) occurred while workers were dismantling the boom. In most of these cases, the pins holding the boom sections together were removed without adequate support to prevent the sections from falling. In 12% of these cases, the deaths occurred while lengthening the boom. The remaining seven workers were struck by swinging booms in an unspecified manner. Of the 59 struck by boom/jib fatalities, a minimum of 35 deaths were caused by mobile cranes.

Trades Involved Construction laborers experienced the greatest number of crane-related deaths between 1992 and 2006 (total of 96 or 30%), followed by heavy equipment operators (74 deaths or 23%), which included 50 crane and tower operators. In addition, 40 supervisors/ managers/administrators died in crane-related incidents (12%), as did 18 iron workers (6%), and 17 mechanics (5%). Other trades with fewer numbers of deaths included electrical workers, truck drivers, welders and carpenters (totaling 24%).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Specific recommendations to reduce and prevent future injuries and fatalities are as follows:

  • First, crane operators should be certified by a nationally accredited crane operator testing organization, such as the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO)*. Presently only 15 states and a few cities& (including New York City) require certification or licensing of crane operators, and some have their own certification program.
  • Second, riggers who attach the load to the crane and signal persons who visibly or audibly direct the crane operator on where to place the load should be certified.
  • Third, crane inspectors should also be certified. We recommend that crane inspectors should have the same degree of qualification as crane operators.
  • Fourth, in addition to other mandated inspections, cranes must be inspected thoroughly by a certified crane inspector after being assembled or modified, such as the jumping of a tower crane.
  • Fifth, according to the proposed OSHA consensus standards on cranes, only trained workers should assemble, modify or disassemble cranes, and they should always be under the supervision of a person meeting both the definition of qualified person** and competent person specified in the standard.
  • Sixth, crane loads should not be allowed to pass over street traffic. If rerouting is not possible, then streets should be closed off when loads pass over streets and pedestrian walkways.
  • Seventh, more complete reporting of data, particularly after a crane collapse, is necessary.
  • Eighth, after OSHA publishes the proposed crane and derrick safety construction standard in August 2008 for public comment, all efforts should be made to speed up the adoption of the C-DAC consensus standard and the additional recommendations provided in this report.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims, including for workers injured at construction sites. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients.

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, watch our videos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *