Cranes are a marvel of engineering, able to lift massive loads using surprisingly little material and power. They’re an essential tool of construction because, when designed and used correctly, they’re the safest, most efficient way to build and modify multi-level structures.
Unfortunately, like most industries, construction isn’t always guided by good sense and a healthy respect for safety. For construction workers, being around cranes can be one of the most hazardous parts of an already hazardous career.
If you’ve been injured in or lost a loved one to a crane accident, the Stoddard Firm can help.
Cranes Can Play a Part in All Four of the Most Common Fatal Construction Accidents
As of 2018, the most recent available year of data at the time of this posting, U.S construction workers die from work-related causes at a rate of 14 per day, accounting for about 21% of all occupational fatalities nationwide. More than half of those construction worker deaths can be traced to four main causes, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has dubbed the “Fatal Four”:
- Struck by object
- Caught in/between
Although these kinds of accidents can happen on virtually any poorly managed construction site, crane work puts construction workers in direct danger of all four at once.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, faulty crane slings and bad hoisting practices alone can result in workers being caught in the rigging, dropped from heights, or struck by dropped cargo. Crane work is also closely associated with electrocutions from overhead powerlines.
Unsecured cargo isn’t the only way cranes can contribute to “struck by” accidents, however. On this page, we’ll focus more on the phenomenon of workers being hit by crane parts directly, or pinned by crane wreckage after a total collapse.
Every Workplace Should Be OSHA-Compliant, Including Construction Sites
The fact that construction work is full of inherent dangers does not mean that practicing workplace safety on construction sites is pointless, impossible, or unnecessary. On the contrary, the presence of known hazards only makes a company all the more responsible for keeping workers and guests as safe as possible.
OSHA recognizes how dangerous construction sites can be, and rather than regulate them more laxly, it provides detailed instructions on how to minimize each danger, including those that are unique to construction. When accidents happen, it’s almost always because someone at some point ignored a safety standard, putting workers at unnecessary risk.
There’s an extensive section of OSHA standards devoted entirely to cranes, covering everything from power line safety to standardized hand signals. For the specific purpose of protecting workers from being crushed or struck by crane booms and other equipment parts, these are just a few of the basic precautions OSHA requires:
- Operation of a crane must comply with all manufacturer’s directions, including but not limited to weight capacity ratings. These directions must be immediately available to the operator at all times.
- Assembly and disassembly must be performed in a way that prevents collapse or unintended movement of any kind, preferably as instructed by the manufacturer. All workers must be made aware of danger zones to avoid, including directly under the boom.
- Before each shift, and after any type of modification, a qualified person must inspect the crane’s setup and vital systems, including controls, hydraulics, tires, electrical systems, and ground conditions.
- Once per year, a crane must pass a comprehensive inspection, which may include disassembly, to remain in use.
- Unless subject to a specific exception, every crane must be equipped with a level indicator, a boom stop, a brake lock, and a horn.
- When there is a local storm warning in effect, a competent person must determine whether to secure the equipment.
- To the greatest extent possible, a crane’s movements must be planned in advance, so as to expose workers and bystanders to minimal danger of being struck.
Legally speaking, OSHA regulations are not optional. As common as violations are, each one still represents an instance when an employer should have prioritized worker safety, but illegally chose not to.
Ideally, OSHA regulations should be preventative. If nothing else, however, they can be very useful in civil court after an accident has already occurred. When strategizing how to sue for an injury caused by a crane collapse or impact, being able to point to these missed safety opportunities goes a long way.
When Cranes Are Not Properly Maintained or Coordinated, People Get Hurt
Crane work is supposed to be a highly coordinated, almost balletic process, and there’s good reason for this. One breakdown in planning or communication can be disastrous.
For example, as recently as September of 2020, two construction cranes collided with each other in Mueller, Texas, sending workers and bystanders running for cover. Although it’s not yet clear exactly who was struck by what, emergency crews arrived to discover 22 people injured, 16 of them severely enough to require hospital treatment.
It doesn’t take multiple cranes for bad planning to cause a serious crane accident, however. Just a month later, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a small lift crane tipped over and trapped two workers beneath it. This kind of accident can happen when the ground under a crane is not level or stable enough, or when the physics of balance and leverage are not properly anticipated before a lift. Both workers pinned by the crane were successfully rescued but required hospital treatment.
In other accident cases, it’s the maintenance and inspection requirements that fall by the wayside, rather than operation procedures.
Five months before the collision in Mueller, a crane failed in Dallas Bay, Tennessee, injuring two workers. The crane was being used to lift a load of plywood to the second floor of a residential construction site, when the boom snapped off of the turntable and struck a worker, knocking him from the second floor to the ground. The second worker, although not hit by crane hardware directly, suffered a head injury from the flying debris. Both needed emergency medical transport.
Unless the crane was defective — in which case the fault would lie with the manufacturer — it seems very likely that the crane’s maintenance had been neglected.
Collapsing Cranes Can Cause Devastating Damage
As serious as any impact from a crane can be, the most severe crane accidents often involve a total crane collapse.
One of these occurred in Virginia in January of 2020. The crane was being used to construct a nine-story office building in Charlottesville when it collapsed, breaking a worker’s leg and damaging the building. The worker was trapped on a then-unsafe area of the roof, which rescue teams were only able to reach using a specialized setup of ladders and ropes.
Thankfully, the worker survived, which is more than can be said of many people who find themselves in the path of a crane collapse.
Six months earlier, in Dallas, Texas, another crane collapsed under heavy wind, tore through an apartment building, and killed a woman in her home. Five other residents were also injured, two of them seriously. The company that owned the crane, Bigge Crane and Rigging, had already received 18 OSHA violations over the past decade. It was fined $26,000 following this incident for a variety of infractions, including failure to inspect the crane before use.
Bigge plans to appeal the fines, arguing that the infractions were unrelated to the collapse, and that OSHA never determined the actual cause. It’s worth reiterating, however, that companies using cranes are responsible for making intelligent judgement calls on when to secure cranes against inclement weather. There was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect at the time of the collapse.
A couple months earlier still, in Seattle, Washington, another crane collapsed under even less ambiguous circumstances, killing two workers and two bystanders who were in their cars on the road below. The crane was being disassembled at the time. An investigation revealed that the disassembly was not being done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and some of the pins had been removed too early in the process. Although OSHA does allow crane users to create their own protocols for safe disassembly instead of using the manufacturer’s recommendations, this protocol clearly didn’t qualify as safe.
OSHA fined the construction crew $12,000, the general contractor $25,000, and the crane supplier $70,000, on the grounds that representatives from the supplier were also acting as onsite experts, and therefore should have ensured that the manufacturer instructions were followed.
Families of the deceased bystanders are now suing for wrongful death caused by crane collapse, and two other bystanders who survived are also pursuing a crane collapse injury lawsuit.
Construction Companies and Crane Manufacturers Are Both Responsible for Keeping People Safe
Because construction projects are usually collaborations between several different companies, it can sometimes take a while to track down exactly where things went wrong. Many companies will exploit this difficulty by throwing blame at each other, or at the victim, but it’s almost always possible to work the truth out eventually.
Construction companies are always responsible for maintaining OSHA-compliant workplaces, which includes keeping all OSHA-required documentation, such as inspection records. A company that fails to do this can’t claim to have taken all reasonable steps to ensure worker safety, and is therefore liable for any consequences of its own corner-cutting.
At the same time, crane manufacturers are responsible for making sure their products won’t hurt anybody if used according to the instructions under real-life circumstances. If a construction company uses a crane perfectly, and it still fails, the crane manufacturer is responsible for any resulting injuries and other damages.
In many situations, multiple parties may share responsibility for a single accident. For example, if a worker is injured because a crane has a defect that should have been discovered through the OSHA-mandated inspection process, both the manufacturer and the construction company that failed to perform a proper inspection could be held liable.
Other entities, including repair services and manufacturers of faulty crane attachments, can also share responsibility for crane accidents.
For injured construction workers who are classified as employees rather than contractors, identifying at-fault parties other than their employer can be essential to securing fair compensation. This is because worker’s comp law generally protects employers from having to pay injured employees the full worth of the damages, but no such protections apply to negligent third-party companies.
The Stoddard Firm Has Experience Representing Construction Accident Survivors
If you’ve been struck by a crane, pinned by a crane, or otherwise injured in a crane accident, The Stoddard Firm can help. We have expertise in all the necessary fields of law to handle these complex situations, including personal injury, product liability, premises liability, and employment law.
We’ll establish exactly what happened, whose responsibility it was to prevent the accident, and what your injuries will end up costing you over the full course of your lifetime, to make sure you’re fairly compensated.
We’re also here to help if your family has suffered a death caused by crane collapse, malfunction, or misuse. We’re closely familiar with wrongful death law, and we understand that the only thing worse than being forced to put a price on a loved one’s life is seeing that life treated as if it were worth nothing at all. We’ll make sure your loss is understood and respected, and that those responsible are identified and held accountable.
By pursuing legal action against a negligent construction company or crane manufacturer, you’re not only giving yourself a better chance of putting your life back on track; you’re helping take the profit out of ignoring OSHA regulations and treating workers as disposable. This, in turn, protects potential victims from similar accidents in the future.
To discuss the details of your case with a lawyer today, just give us a call at 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation.