“This is going to be an expensive loss,” Teslia says of the New York event. “It is going to change the way things are done in New York City and maybe around the country. Unfortunately it takes death to shakes things up.”

Don Pellow, a crane and rigging engineer in Kansas City, Mo., and publisher of “Bob’s Rigging & Crane Handbook,” says problems with slings fall under three categories: overuse, misuse or abuse.

Area around the fallen crane was cordoned off as rescuers searched for missing persons in the rubble of a building.
AP / Wideworld
Area around the fallen crane was cordoned off as rescuers searched for missing persons in the rubble of a building.

Pellow says he has given expert witness in 40 or 50 lawsuits. Over half of the cases focus on sling failures, he says. “The number-one failure of nylon slings is cutting around edges of loads,” Pellow says. “It’s very, very important to protect against cutting.” Cutting that occurs on a previous lift would require immediate disposal, he says.

“Slings shall be padded or protected from the sharp edges of their loads,” according to OSHA’s sling regulation. Pellow notes that operators often use makeshift materials, even worn-out slings, for the purpose. “I’ve even seen fire hoses used,” says Pellow. “When you get to heavier loads or critical loads you need specially designed edge protectors.” Other problems with slings, especially synthetic ones, include sun bleaching, heat damage and abrasion.

OSHA has a team on site working from its Manhattan area office, with support from other OSHA offices in the region, along with a crane expert from the national office. Tony Pietroluongo, the assistant area director in Manhattan in charge of safety, says OSHA’s mandate is to determine whether federal regulations were violated or industry standards were not met. “If there is anything which might be in violation of the federal standard, we will issue citations,” he says.

Pellow says he is “wholly” in favor of certification requirements for riggers. OSHA’s pending draft federal rule calls for riggers and signal persons to be “qualified,” but stops short of calling for certification.

Guy Lawrence / ENR
Another Manhattan tower crane shows similar tie-in bracing and also has slings still in place on the lower collar.

To deflect possibly stiffer city requirements on building contractors, the New York City Building Trades Employers Association and the local Building and Construction Trades Council announced on March 17 that they will hire an “independent safety consultant” to review current jobsite methods and best practices related to raising crane height, erecting hoists and building scaffolding “to ensure greater worker and public safety.”

Cranes are in growing use, with an attendant rise in incidents that puts pressure on owners, contractors and engineers to improve safety, although fatality data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not show a clear correlation between increased crane use and construction-crane-accident fatalities. Twenty-seven people were killed in construction-crane accidents in 2006, bureau data show, compared with 33 in 2005, 40 in 2004 and 30 in 2003.

The New York City Buildings Dept. says there are about 250 cranes active in the city alone. Tower cranes have gradually replaced other cranes in high-rise construction, with self-climbing units most popular. That demand has driven up demand for qualified operators and riggers on projects.

...operation, sending a worker falling 39 stories to his death. A brace was also knocked loose in that accident. That mishap, and perhaps the New York City one as well, spurred Miami-Dade County Commissioners on March 18 to pass, by a vote of 12-0, stringent new regulations for crane inspections and operator certification. “In the past 10 years, we’ve had a major influx of tower cranes in the U.S.,” says Peter Juhren, national service manager of Salem, Ore.-based Morrow Equipment Co. LLC, the domestic distributor for Germany-based Liebherr Group. “The number of cranes in the U.S. in that time period has easily tripled,” he says.