Texas failed to get through 2021 without more fatal crane accidents, continuing a trend that began decades earlier, public records show.

Following a 2019 crane collapse in Dallas that killed a woman in an apartment building, the NBC network affiliate in that city declared Texas the “nationwide leader in crane-related deaths.” 

It cited U.S. Labor Dept. statistics showing that from 2011 to 2017, the state had 50 crane-related worker deaths while Florida, New York, California and Illinois had 16 or fewer in the same period.

In 2019, some believed that a new federal rule taking effect that year requiring crane operator certification in the U.S. could make a difference in Texas. Previously, there was no crane operator certification requirement in the state.

But operator error allegedly played a role in two Texas crane accidents this year, both involving assembly of the crane, according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.

In one case in April, a small pile-driving subcontractor, Hemphill WBE Pile Driving Co., was using an American 5300 crawler crane in the highway median of I-10 in Beaumont to drive piles for a new elevated section. The boom buckled, landed on and crushed a pick-up truck, killing the driver and passenger. They were identified as Altaf Kasowadia, 42, and Sarfraz Karowadi, 37, who operated a nearby convenience store.

'The sequence of the crane boom sections was incorrectly assembled' with different strength ratings 'intermixed.'
—OSHA's citation proposed against Hemphill WBE Pile Driving

Hemphill WBE Pile Driving had failed to properly assemble the boom, OSHA said. 

“The sequence of crane-boom sections was incorrectly assembled” in violation of the manufacturers’ directions, with boom sections with different strength ratings “intermixed,” OSHA said.

When the operator tried to use the crane to remove the diesel hammer from the ground, the load exceeded the boom’s capacity. OSHA said the crane was being used to pull the diesel hammer and its components sideways—another mistake.

“Two people died senselessly because Hemphill Pile Driving failed to follow assembly instructions and federal regulations,” charged OSHA Area Director Mark Briggs in Houston.

The safety agency proposed $212,000 in penalties against the Lufkin, Texas-based subcontractor.

Company officials could not be reached for comment, and OSHA records indicate that Hemphill WBE Pile Driving reached an informal settlement of the proposed penalties.

Power Line Workers Fall From Crane

Improper assembly also is cited by OSHA as the cause of another crane mishap one month prior to the Beaumont tragedy.

Houston-based Mesa Line Services was constructing a power line tower near Houston in March. A crane operator had hoisted two workers in a basket to install the arms of a monopole, said OSHA. But the large retaining pin that secures the basket to the crane jib adapter and boom had not been inserted.

OSHA said no one inspected the equipment so the error went undetected.

According to the agency, as workers adjusted brackets on the monopole at a height of 150 ft, the basket fell off and the workers plummeted to the ground.

One died of head and neck blunt force trauma, and the other suffered multiple fractures.

In September, OSHA proposed a penalty of $95,000 against Mesa Line Services. Company officials could not be reached for comment, but OSHA records show the company is contesting the citations.

Insurers Sue Bigge Crane

Meanwhile, the legal and financial fallout of the 2019 Dallas crane collapse continues to play out.

A group of property insurers for the destroyed apartment building owner said in a June lawsuit filed in state court in Dallas that they have paid almost $60 million in claims related to the accident two-and-a-half years ago on a day with wind gusts of 70 mph. 

The toppled boom killed Kiersten Smith, who was in her home at the time, injured several others and displaced many residents.

The insurer group is seeking reimbursement from San Leandro, Calif.-based Bigge Crane & Rigging Co. Its Peiner SK 450-20 crane was being operated at a construction site across the street from the apartment building.

Bigge Crane is contesting penalties of $26,000 against it. Without identifying a specific accident cause, OSHA said its citations are based on Bigge Crane’s alleged failure to remove rusty bolts from the crane, address structural members in poor condition and regularly inspect the crane to assure good condition of the bolts and turntable. 

Randy Smith, staff legal counsel for Bigge Crane, declined to comment on the insurers’ litigation. When the fines were first proposed in 2019, he told ENR that “OSHA did not issue a causation report and did not allege Bigge was at fault in the accident.”