Each year, hundreds of U.S. construction workers die on job sites. Many injuries and deaths involve crane accidents and contact with electrical wires. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), factors such as poor site design, improper use of equipment, and simple inattention often lead to severe injuries and death.
Electrocutions cause one of every ten construction worker deaths, the third leading cause of work-site fatalities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, crane accidents in general industry and construction account for an average of 71 deaths each year.
Data from the NIOSH National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) Surveillance System indicate that approximately 450 work-related electrocution deaths occur annually in the United States.
It isn’t only workers, bystanders are also injured and killed by crane accidents. When accidents occur, the crane operator/rigger, the construction company, and the property owners can be liable for damage and injury.
Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Work injury lawyer and Occupational Negligence Attorney representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of civil litigation claims.
Common Causes of Crane Accidents
Mobile cranes are involved in most overhead power line fatal incidents. Almost 50 percent of mobile crane accidents involve electrocution, resulting from cranes touching power sources during operation.
The Center for Construction Research and Training conducted a study that identified common causes of crane accidents. The incidents most commonly occurred due to the following:
- Accidental Contact with Power Lines: The majority of crane accidents are caused by contact with overhead power lines. Crane booms hit live power lines, electrocuting the crane operators, and other workers nearby.
- Improper Crane Assembly/Disassembly: Before operating a crane, tests are meant to be performed to gauge the stability of heavy equipment. Accidents also occur with a lack of communication among the workers involved.
- Crane Boom Collapse: Overloading a crane beyond capacity can lead to failure of the structural components of the crane. Crane boom collapse accidents make up about 20 percent of crane-related injuries. Up to 80 percent of all crane collapses are attributed to operators exceeding the crane’s operational capacity.
In addition, some machines are not maintained or inspected regularly to ensure safe operation, and operators often do not have the necessary qualifications to operate each piece of equipment safely.
Cranes and other large commercial equipment are necessary in a variety of construction operations and tasks. Yet they are involved in a large proportion of workplace accidents and construction site injuries and deaths throughout the country. Crane accidents are linked to fatalities, fall injuries, crush injuries, electrocutions, and tip overs.
The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes in an industry report that about 50 percent of all heavy industry fatalities are at least partially caused by heavy equipment, resulting in legal action and crane accident lawsuits.
Cranes, with their extending, rotational arms, are inherently at risk of unbalance and hazardous to workers, particularly when operating around power lines or other large structures. Hundreds of workers in the construction industry have suffered crush and fall accidents as a result of unsafe work environments involving cranes. Crane Accidents may also lead to fatal electrical injuries.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that construction laborers are at the greatest risk for suffering crane-related injuries, electrocutions and deaths. Workers commonly involved in related accidents include the following:
• Crane and tower operators
• Supervisors and managers
• Tree care workers and landscapers
• Truck Accidents
Crane Accident Lawsuits
More than half of crane-related electrocutions occurred in the construction industry. Crane-related incidents are most common in private construction; however accidents also occur in highway and street construction, bridge construction, manufacturing and mining facilities.
Overhead cranes represent the type of crane involved in the majority of fatalities. Mobile cranes, truck cranes, and rail-mounted cranes also create a hazard if not operated properly. In order to avoid such hazards from causing electrocution and even death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established standards necessary for appropriate work to be completed at construction sites.
In regards to preventing crane accidents, the OSHA explains that unless lines have been “de-energized and visibly grounded” or standalone, unattached insulating barriers have been put up to prevent contact with the lines, certain criteria need to be established.
Per former OHSA Standard 1926.550(a)(15) established before 2000, several crane specifications include:
- “For lines rated 50kV. or below, minimum clearance between the lines and any part of the crane or load shall be ten feet;”
- “For lines rated over 50 kV., minimum clearance between the lines and any part of the crane or load shall be 10 feet plus 0.4 inch for each 1 kV. over 50 kV., or twice the length of the line insulator, but never less than ten feet.;”
- “A person shall be designated to observe clearance of the equipment and give timely warning for all operations where it is difficult for the operator to maintain the desired clearance by visual means;”
- “Any overhead wire shall be considered to be an energized line unless and until the person owning such line or the electrical utility authorities indicate that it is not an energized line and has been visibly grounded;”
- “Combustible and flammable materials shall be removed from the immediate area prior to operations.”
Recently, construction safety standards have been updated slightly to include more accurate specifications. Crane accidents are scrutinized more now than ever. Requirements regarding cranes now fall under rules 1926.1400 to 1926.1442:
- “Before assembling or disassembling equipment, the employer must determine if any part of the equipment, load line, or load (including rigging and lifting accessories) could get, in the direction or area of assembly/disassembly, closer than 20 feet to a power line during the assembly/disassembly process. If so, the employer must meet the requirements in Option (1), Option (2), or Option (3) of this section, as follows:”
- “Confirm from the utility owner/operator that the power line has been de-energized and visibly grounded at the worksite;”
- “Ensure that no part of the equipment, load line or load (including rigging and lifting accessories), gets closer than 20 feet to the power line by implementing the measures specified in paragraph (b) of this section;”
- Refer to a table with various voltages and clearance distances specified.
Heavy Equipment accidents and Cincinnati construction injury events can be prevented. The changes between standards and guidelines from 2000 show how the OSHA is taking more precautions in regards to regulating construction sites. Previously, a clearance distance of ten feet was required, whereas a general clearance distance of 20 feet is now required.
Furthermore, after an employer references the table of voltages and distances provided by the OSHA, he must continue to follow a varying degree of additional precautions in order to ensure that the construction site is adequately safeguarded.
The Lyon Firm is dedicated to representing injured workers in Cincinnati and Ohio. When a Cincinnati construction injury results in a serious condition or death, lawsuits can be filed against negligent employers.
Accidents are almost always preventable. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers take several careful measures to protect workers and operators of cranes and other boomed vehicles from contacting energized overhead power lines.
The institute’s historical findings show a consistent lack of worker and supervisor training, lack of jobsite safety plans, lack of adequate crane inspections, and lack of proper investigation and reporting of crane accidents and fatalities.
Many workplace accidents are caused by malfunctioning cranes or missing safety components, hoists, and rigging devices. Even the best crane operators can experience serious accidents as a result of defective crane components. Employers are required to maintain and inspect construction equipment like cranes regularly.
The Crane Manufacturers Association of America has standards for the designs of cranes and hoists. The safety regulations for commercial cranes and hoists include the following standards:
- Safety latches must be provided for all crane and hoist hooks
- An electrical disconnect switch must be provided for all cranes and hoists
- An electrical disconnect switch must be located in a labeled box with lock mechanisms in place
- An electrical disconnect switch must be provided for all crane pendants
- All hoist and hook blocks must carry maximum hook capacity labeling
- Cabs and bridge cranes must have motion alarms
- Cranes and hoist hooks must not be repainted
- The bridge underside must carry signs indicating NWSE directions
- Building cranes and hoists must have a slip clutch or an upper limit switch
- New cranes and hoists must undergo load testing to a capacity of 125% before they are put into working operation
- Nylon rigging and slings cannot have damaged stitching or fibers
- Wire rope slings should be free of cracks, broken wires, and twisted hooks
- All steel slings must be free of cracks
Unsafe Construction Site Lawsuits
Crane accidents are often the direct result of professional negligence, and up to 90 percent of crane accidents are due to human error. With 130 million U.S. workers and only 2,200 OSHA inspectors, construction companies have a responsibility to create a safe workplace, provide adequate safety training and ensure that all equipment is in proper working order.
Unfortunately, some employers sacrifice the safety of their employees for profit and put people’s lives at risk. As a result, victims and families have been compensated millions of dollars for injuries and pain and suffering.
Employers and construction site managers have a duty ensure a safe work environment and the safe use of crane operation. All workers must well-trained and protected, and all equipment must be up to code and maintained properly. Workplace safety precautions must be taken into consideration or an employer may be liable for any injury or death that occurs on site.
Electrocutions and other crane-related injuries can be very serious or fatal. However, the majority of heavy equipment accidents can be prevented with basic safety practice. To find out the root cause of a workplace accident, contact a crane accident lawyer to investigate.