Following a nearly six-month investigation, the Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries has issues its findings in the collapse of a crane in Seattle on April 27 that killed three people, including two ironworkers dismantling the crane at the time. 

L&I issued citations for three companies involved totaling more than $100,000, focusing on the premature removal of pins securing sections of the tower together in anticipation of dismantling the crane. 

Crane owner Morrow Equipment received the largest fine at $70,000, with one willful violation. General contractor GLY Construction was fined $25,200 for multiple serious violations, while crane service firm Northwest Tower Crane Service, Inc. was fined a total of $12,000 for several serious violations. L&I had also investigated Seaburg Construction Corp., which had assisted in dismantling the crane, and the crane operator’s employer Omega Morgan, but chose not to issue any citations to those companies.

L&I blames the collapse of the crane to the premature removal of most of the bolts securing the tower sections together. In their announcement of the citations on Oct. 17, L&I said “With the pins removed, the tower was significantly weakened, making it susceptible to the 45-plus miles per hour wind gust that toppled it. When the pins are in place, tower cranes can withstand much stronger gusts.”

Removing most or all of the pins from the tower connections in anticipation of dismantling the crane is a procedure not recommended by manufacturers but often is done to speed dismantling and reducing the number of workers needed to stay through the process. This is not explicitly forbidden by OSHA regulations. OSHA allows for the assembly and disassembly of cranes to be done according to either manufacturer procedures or “employer procedures,” which are only required to be “developed by a qualified person.”

Tower crane specialist Terry McGettigan, who wrote a viewpoint in ENR soon after the Seattle crane collapse, say the vagueness of the OSHA regulation’s language allows for unsafe practices such as premature bolt removal to propagate among crane service companies. “This tragic offense is the unintended consequence of OSHA’s “Employer Procedures” gone rogue,” he tells ENR. 

"This tragic event must not be repeated," said L&I director Joel Sacks in a press statement. "We expect all companies to follow manufacturers' procedures and have a single point of authority overseeing crane assembly or disassembly. There has to be one person on site who knows the rules and is in charge."

The three companies have fifteen days after the citations were issued to file an appeal.