OSHA investigates why experienced crane operator died
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Lawrence Park Township police want to know why a locomotive part crushed a crane operator to death at GE Transportation.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook identified the victim of Monday’s accident as William D. Huff, 46, who resided on East 28th Street in Erie.
Cook described Huff as an experienced crane operator for the company.
Huff, who worked in Building 6 at GE Transportation, was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:30 p.m. Monday by Deputy Erie County Coroner Dennis Suscheck, Cook said.
The accident happened before 2 p.m., as Huff was working on the floor of Building 6, using a hand-held, remote-controlled device to operate a crane that was hoisting a locomotive alternator frame. Cook said he was told the part weighs several tons.
“He was setting it down, and for whatever reason, it fell over and crushed him,” Cook said of Huff.
At least one of Huff’s co-workers witnessed the incident, Cook said.
An autopsy was conducted on Huff’s body Monday evening. Cook said Huff’s death was caused by “massive blunt-force trauma” suffered in the accident.
Lawrence Park police Sgt. John Morell said his department, as well as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are investigating.
Morell said both agencies have yet to determine why the locomotive frame fell onto Huff.
OSHA has sent a compliance officer to investigate the accident.
“At this point, we are not commenting on any cause or anything of that nature,” Morell said. “It is under investigation.”
Shaun Francis, general manager of human resources at GE Transportation, said that Huff had worked at the plant for more than five years. Francis would not divulge exactly how long Huff had been employed by GE Transportation in Lawrence Park Township.
Francis said grief counseling has been made available to Huff’s family and GE Transportation employees.
The plant employs about 4,000 workers.
“Right now, our No. 1 focus is on the employee’s family and our larger family of fellow employees on the site,” Francis said.
Francis said GE Transportation had few details to add about the accident.
“We don’t have anything to share right now,” he said. “We truly want to get through (the investigation) and get all the details.”
The area of Building 6 where Huff worked was shut down after the accident, Francis said.
The accident at GE on Monday was the first fatality at an Erie manufacturer since October 2004, when 31-year-old Brian Bongiorno, of West Springfield, was killed at Accuride Corp., 1015 E. 12th St.
Bongiorno was crushed while performing maintenance on a machine used for spinning aluminum rims for vehicles.
Staff writers Gerry Weiss and David Bruce contributed to this report.
KEVIN FLOWERS can be reached at 870-1693 or by e-mail.