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Project in New York City where latest crane collapse killed a worker.

The crane that collapsed on the site of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s No. 7 line subway extension project in New York City had passed its most recent inspection in January and was set for another one this week, a source close to the project has told ENR.

The collapse, which occurred April 3 shortly before 7:30 p.m. and killed one worker, was called a “freak accident” by an executive of the Hill International/LiRo/HDR joint venture that is the project’s construction manager.
According to other sources, the Manitowoc 4100 crawler crane – owned by Yonkers Contracting Co., Yonkers, N.Y., which is also doing work on the site – was in the process of setting rebar cages for the next day’s crew when the boom snapped.

New York City officials said most of the crane’s 170-ft lattice boom fell to the ground in two pieces, one measuring 80 ft, the other 40 ft.

The MTA on April 4 suspended construction at the 34th St. and 11th Ave. site and ordered all cranes on all of the agency’s projects to be inspected.

The New York City Dept. of Buildings is assisting the MTA, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and other authorities in investigating the accident, which took the life of 30-year-old Michael Simermeyer. He was employed by Rockaway, N.J.-based subcontractor J&E Industries.

Simermeyer was killed after being crushed by one of the falling pieces of the crane’s boom.  At least three other workers also were injured.

According to the MTA, one of the injured workers was employed by Yonkers Contracting.

Representatives from Yonkers Contracting declined to comment.

A crane expert familiar with the accident said there was no load on the crane’s hook at the time of the accident, but said the boom “ran,” meaning it broke into an uncontrolled free fall. The fall was likely caused by a failure of one of the crane’s pendant lines – a wire rope that supports the boom – a failure of the boom’s hoist mechanism or the snapping of the hoist cable.

A pendant line failure, is the least likely cause of the accident, the expert said.

“The Manitowoc 4100 has a double set of pendants, one on either side of the boom,” said the expert, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the accident. “Simultaneous failure of both sets seems unlikely and a failure on one side would have twisted the boom, [which] appears to have come straight down.”

The MTA said it would not comment on the cause of the collapse until the investigation was complete.

Coordination Breakdown

New York City officials said April 4 that the accident, while tragic, underscores a growing concern among city leaders that MTA and other New York City construction sites managed by state agencies are not required to comply with city construction laws, creating potentially dangerous regulatory gaps.

“State regulations currently preclude the city from having oversight at MTA construction sites, making it impossible to ensure safety regulations are upheld to the highest standards,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at a press conference held on outside the closed construction site. “This terrible incident highlights the need for better coordination between the [MTA] and the city of New York on large-scale construction projects being built in our boroughs.”

Quinn said the city was responsible only for a crane inspection at the start of the project, but outside of that, the city has had no inspectors on site and was not required to receive an engineer’s report before or during construction.

“[Having inspectors on site] would have better allowed us to monitor conditions,” she said. “City officials who were invited onto the site after this incident found conditions that would have qualified as violations [including] evidence of unsecured perimeters and deteriorating walk ways.”

The MTA said it is currently “examining [Quinn’s] proposal to put all MTA construction activity under the inspection authority of the New York City Department of Buildings.”

In a statement, the agency said the crane passed two inspections – one conducted by the DOB – one on July 14, 2011 and the other January 10.

The April 3 accident once again thrusts crane safety into the headlines in New York City. A pair of high-profile crane accidents in 2008 left nine people dead and injured several others. One accident left seven dead after a 205-ft tower crane fall at a Manhattan high-rise residential site when workers lost control of a bracing collar while they attempted to jump the crane. The other accident, which occurred on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, killed two people.

The accidents resulted in sweeping changes to the city’s crane safety laws and landed the owner of both cranes, James Lomma, CEO of New York Crane and Equipment, in court on charges of manslaughter.