New York City officials say that the crane that collapsed on the Upper East Side this morning, killing one construction worker and seriously injuring two others, had been properly inspected. (Although there have been several complaints about the construction site in recent months, according to Curbed).
But Jeff York, an independent crane inspector, says that local building inspectors are ill-equipped to spot problems with the way a tower crane, like this one, has been assembled at a job site.
“It takes many years to be able to understand what you are looking at; knowing how to check bolts on a tower crane for tightness,’’ says Mr. York, himself a licensed crane operator in San Leandro, Calif., who is president of Signal-Rite, LLC, a San Leandro, Calif.-based company that provides inspection and training services to the crane industry.
The other problem, Mr. York says, is the lack of training of the workers who operate, assemble and dismantle the cranes. “A crane operator gets less training to operate a crane than a hairdresser,’’ says Mr. York, who added that it takes about a week to prepare for a written test to become a crane operator. The average wage for a tower crane operator in New York City is about $62 an hour; an operator San Francisco makes 34-35 dollars an hour, he says.
Mr. York has developed a new system of commands for crane operators to communicate with workers on the ground. He says that miscommunication over a radio is contributing to some accidents. For example, the word “stop” can sounds like “up’’ if a radio cuts outs, he says.
There were 72 crane fatalities in 2006 across the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but these include not only large tower cranes, but mobile units used in smaller building projects. In all, there were 1,239 deaths on private construction projects in 2006, up 4% from 2005.
The crane that collapsed today had been used in constructing the Azure, a condominium/cooperative (dubbed a “condop”) that was slated to open in Spring 2009 — with studios priced from $605,800.