Crane Accident Aftermath

In the aftermath of the most recent crane accident in which a tower crane came crashing down on the streets of New York City, the issue of crane safety has been thrust into the national headlines at a level not before seen. I can personally attest to this, as I sat and watched the events of May 30 unfold from my New York City hotel room. It seemed that cranes • no matter what type or size • were deemed unsafe and should not be allowed to work in the city. There was literally hysteria on the streets fanned by local media and a misinformed public. While the issue is really tower cranes, unfortunately the fallout seems to be giving the entire industry a black eye.

As a result of this, something different happened this time. Not only did the local media get caught up in the frenzy, but so did the national media. CNN, CNBC and NBC lit up my phone and filled my email box. When I was approached by NBC to appear on the “Today Show,” I had reservations about accepting the invitation. Once I had determined that this could be a wonderful opportunity to communicate with a paranoid public, I canvassed not only my own knowledgeable editorial staff, but I also called on other industry leaders to get their perspectives. What I heard wasn't anything new or different from what we as an industry believe and embrace. Crane safety is more about the quality and the level of training of the people than it is the cranes themselves. Even though the industry has been working hard to address all aspects of crane safety, there is no denying the fact that we are stretched very thin. Bigger projects and tighter build schedules coupled with the continued shortage of cranes and qualified crane professionals have the industry scrambling.

So what is the answer? Everyone has a different perspective, and it is part of our responsibility as an industry trade publication to foster an environment that allows for a frank discussion on the matter.

AmQuip President Frank Bardonaro says that a major step in the right direction would be to have governmental agencies devote their efforts to ensuring that basically all the people that touch the crane have the proper training and certification, and that this would be much more effective than requiring the inspectors to be certified. An excellent point considering the shortage of certified inspectors.

Jeff York of Signal-Rite says that the key to addressing the issue is for crane inspectors to be both certified and independent, as it is in the state of California, thus avoiding the issue of political influence and bureaucratic delays.

The July issue of Crane Hot Line will feature an article that was in development prior to the most recent accident. In it, several crane trainers identify the need for OEMs to do a better job of providing more-accessible training, specifically in the areas of tower crane erection, climbing and dismantling. If this perception is a reality, then tower crane OEMs need to look hard at how to address this issue.

The industry is at a critical point. Although many initiatives were already in place before these accidents, we need to band together to address the issue of training and certification. If not, we will be faced with a cascade of overreactions similar to the one that took place recently in Miami, Fla. There, the local contractors and crane owners successfully filed for injunctive relief from an ill-conceived Miami-Dade regulation that would have basically shut down every crane in the area. As Bruce Whitten, chairman of the Florida Crane Owners Council pointed out, no crane built today would pass the proposed regulations.

Sometimes it takes a tragic event like this to get things moving and bring people together. In order for that to happen, everyone involved must get on the same page so that when the next incident occurs we can point to material efforts and results showing that we are taking responsibility for our industry. If not, the industry will be faced with a litany of regulations that would ultimately serve no one's best interests.