Construction crane accidents of all kinds take place throughout the U.S. every year. Crane accidents often result in serious injury or death because working with cranes can involve heights and extremely heavy loads. The federal Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) requires the construction companies that employ people who work with large cranes to make sure that crane operators are properly trained and licensed by the state.
Crane operators must also comply with all regulations regarding crane maintenance, crane assembly, and crane operation. They must be knowledgeable about the load capacity of the cranes with which they work and use proper warning signs when cranes are in operation to ensure safety.
What Are Common Causes of Crane Accidents?
There most common kinds of crane accidents, including the following:
- The crane makes contact with live electrical wires;
- The equipment itself or the crane’s load strikes a worker;
- The crane operator or another worker falls from the crane;
- The crane tips over;
- The crane’s boom or cable fails.
The cause of these crane accidents may include the following:
- Improper or inadequate maintenance;
- Mechanical failure;
- Faulty assembly or disassembly of a crane;
- Inadequate training of crane operators and other workers involved in crane operation on a building site;
- Negligence on the part of the operator or other workers involved in operation of the crane;
- Weather conditions that involve wind;
- Dropped or swinging loads;
- Improper loading of the crane which puts it beyond the crane’s capacity;
- Failure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures for safe crane operation.
Cranes are often rented and then delivered to a construction site where they have to be assembled. The operator then must assess the weight of the load that needs to be lifted, as well as its dimensions and center of gravity.
The operator must take into consideration the height to which the load is going to be lifted and how far that is from the location from which the load is hoisted up. When the details of these procedures are taken into account, it is easy to see how things can go wrong if the set up and operation of a crane are not performed competently. .
How Can Crane Accidents Be Prevented?
Some methods that experts recommend for preventing crane accidents include:
- Having a written maintenance schedule, which includes regular, routine inspections of all cranes;
- Training all employees, not only crane operators, on both the proper operation of cranes and crane safety procedures;
- Ensuring that cranes are adequate to lift the loads that are required of them on a construction site;
- Ensuring that loads are adequately rigged;
- Emphasizing the importance of planning, communication, and worker coordination in the operation of cranes at building sites.
What Are the Consequences of Crane Accidents?
One possible consequence of a crane accident is criminal prosecution of crane companies and operators. While this would be rare, it can happen in the worst cases. In one horrifying case reported in California, a crane operator was charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of two construction workers at a construction site. In addition, the operator’s employer was charged with several violations related to failing to inspect equipment for safety. These were violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health regulations.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) said the crane involved in the accident was old and in need of repairs and had not been approved for lifting. Reportedly, the basket carrying two workers did not have a working safety latch. The basket broke free from the crane and the workers fell eighty feet to their deaths.
The crane operator’s employer was fined more than $100,00 for workplace violations in connection with the incident. The crane operator was charged with two felony counts of violating occupational safety or health standards causing death.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act does provide criminal penalties for any employer who willfully violates a safety standard in the Act, if that violation causes the death of an employee. There are four elements to a criminal violation of the Act. The prosecution must prove that:
- The defendant is an employer who is engaged in a business affecting commerce;
- The employer violated a “standard, rule or order” contained within the Act;
- The violation was willful, and
- The violation caused the death of an employee.
Courts have found that indifference to general safety or to a specific hazard can serve as evidence of intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the law. So evidence of this kind could qualify as evidence showing a willful violation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has extensive rules and regulations regarding cranes and crane operation. Cranes are not used only in construction. Cranes are also used for moving, loading and off-loading containers used in container shipping. Some cranes are mounted on trucks, which makes them mobile and adaptable to many different applications. Of course, a few different kinds of cranes are used in construction.
This variety is part of what necessitates the many rules and regulations for cranes, including the following:
- Basic standards for cranes;
- Operator certifications and qualifications;
- Qualifications for riggers, who prepare a crane for a lift;
- Qualifications for signal workers;
- Material delivery;
- Ground conditions;
- Power lines;
In addition, OSHA explains how its federal rules and regulations impact state rules and regulations, such as those of Cal-OSHA. As of 2017, OSHA requires all crane operators to be certified. Employers too must properly train each operator on how to operate the specific equipment that the employer uses, as well as how to comply with all other OSHA, state, and municipal requirements. The goal is to prevent injuries and deaths from incompentent crane operation.
In addition to possible criminal charges for violation of OSHA rules, construction workers injured or killed in crane accidents may recover compensation under the workers’ compensation system in their state, if the accident happened within the scope of work on the construction site.
Other people who are injured in crane accidents are likely to file lawsuits for negligence in civil court seeking damages for their losses. Given the huge size of the cranes that operate on some contraction sites, crane accidents can injure people who are well outside the work site when the accident happens.
In an accident reported in New York City, a 600-foot construction crawler crane as tall as a 15-story building crashed onto a city street. It killed a pedestrian in the vicinity of the construction site and seriously injured the driver of a car that was struck by the crane. Victims outside a construction site would most certainly file a claim for negligence.
Businesses that suffer significant property damage would also generally file civil lawsuits for negligence seeking compensation for their damage.
With the theory of vicarious liability, victims can reach the assets of the construction companies, making them liable for the negligence of their employees on the job. This can happen if, for example, the worker:
- Is inexperienced using heavy equipment;
- Has not been trained as required by regulations in crane operation and safety;
- Performs maintenance improperly or inadequately, e.g. not often enough;
- Fails to operate the crane in a safe and competent manner.
Neither the prosecutor in a criminal case nor an attorney in a civil action needs to prove that the crane contractor or operator intended to cause the accident. Contractor or operator negligence is sufficient. Taking a substantial and/or unjustifiable risk can constitute negligence.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If you have been injured in a crane accident at work, you want to consult a workers compensation attorney for advice as to how to seek compensation. If you have been injured in a crane accident and you were not employed on the construction site, you want to consult a workplace injury attorney. Your attorney can identify those who might be legally responsible for compensating you for your injuries.
If you have been charged with a criminal violation in connection with a crane accident, you want to consult a criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you defend against the criminal charges and possibly minimize the penalties.