Industry Reacts to N.Y. Crane Database

The New York City Department of Buildings announced in June its intent to create a database to track tower cranes and their parts. The Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) responded with a letter written to The New York Times and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, criticizing the effort, primarily because there’s no research showing that such a database will improve safety or reduce accidents. Meanwhile, a private initiative of Frank Bardonaro, president of AmQuip Crane Rental, Philadelphia, Pa., aims to track repair and maintenance records of mobile and tower cranes. Another key feature of the site allows crane rental companies to list certifications earned by operators and riggers.

Central to SC&RA’s concern of the proposed New York database is this: “What statistical data were used in determining that a tower crane database will create a safer work environment for employees and protect the public?” wrote Joel Dandrea, executive vice president of the SC&RA. He cited the following example:

“With respect to the single tower crane accident attributable to component failure (9151 St., NYC) how would the existence of a crane database have served to prevent or minimize the likelihood of this accident? The replacement part that failed was a manufactured product for which the welds had been inspected by independent experts and approved by the city inspectors as well. All that a crane database would have shown was that the crane had been repaired, a fact already known to all relevant parties. It would not have helped predict or prevent the accident.”

Likewise Dandrea questions the practicality of a database, explaining that tower cranes are modular pieces of equipment, making it difficult to accurately track their components. “The critical components are interchangeable and used on many different cranes throughout their lifetime. More importantly, the vast majority of these components have no individualized serial numbers. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of non-serialized boom and tower components in North America which are continuously mixed and matched on cranes all over the world,” said Dandrea.

Despite these obstacles, Dandrea points out that the SC&RA is not against the concept of sharing information and data, but “when an initiative such as this is formulated in a vacuum without the proper and adequate involvement from all industry stakeholders, the initiative will be suspect and may well be counterproductive to the needs and interests of our members,” he said.

Shortly after New York’s announcement came a similar one about a new website, CraneFacts.com. Its intended scope is broader—encompassing maintenance and inspection records for mobile and tower cranes, as well as certification records for operators, riggers and others. Data entry on CraneFacts.com is voluntary and access to the data will be permission-based.

Searches on the site can be conducted by serial number, equipment owner, make, model, or location. Among the historical data that can be entered for each machine include maintenance records and recalls. Likewise, manufacturers will be invited to post technical data about models. Designed also to be a resource, CraneFacts.com will contain a section that consolidates all state crane regulations in one place accessible via an interactive map.

Asked about the motivation behind CraneFacts.com, Bardonaro said he believes requirements for such databases are on the horizon. “I think it’s coming. I’d rather be pre-emptive with something useful,” he said. In fact, he says, crane rental companies already share much of the information, such as repair and maintenance records, with their customers.

One issue that has been raised since the announcements about these databases relates to the definition of a critical repair or critical component. Recognizing that the process is evolutionary, Bardonaro hopes the website will offer the industry a forum to agree on such definitions.

Bardonaro says he has received mixed feedback from other crane owners regarding the site, but his response is, “The crane rental industry already has the liability. Instead let’s manage it.” Positive comments for the site have come from the insurance industry and certain state jurisdictions. According to Bardonaro, participating crane rental companies will benefit in the form of reduced insurance premiums and greater efficiencies when working in certain jurisdictions, such as Washington state, where similar data must be submitted.