Building Trades

Crane Operators Say Safety Needs a Union Voice

February 9, 2016
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new crane-safety rules need more “clarity,” and his proposed task force needs to have workers at the table, says a spokesperson for the city’s crane operators’ union, Local 14 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The mayor announced the new rules Feb. 7, two days after a 565-foot crawler crane collapsed in high winds in lower Manhattan, killing a 38-year-old man on his way to work. They require crane engineers to stop work with crawler cranes and lower them into a safe position “whenever steady winds are forecast to exceed 20 miles an hour, or gusts are forecast to exceed 30 miles per hour”; provide more sidewalk protection for pedestrians; and notify residents and businesses in the surrounding area when a crane is being moved into the secure position. They also raise the fine for failing to certify that a crane is ceasing operation from $4,800 to $10,000.

Those rules leave it unclear who is responsible for all that, according to Local 14. Will it be the site contractor, the company running the crane, or the person in the cab? “The way it looks now, all the responsibility falls on the crane operator,” the union spokesperson says.

The mayor will also appoint a task force to study whether more crane regulations are needed—but “as of now, there’s nobody from Local 14 on it,” the union spokesperson says. “How do you have a task force without the people who operate 400 cranes a day? You need somebody who knows how cranes operate. Like it or not, the members of Local 14 are the experts.”

Crane crashes are like plane crashes, he says. The problem is that “they’re so big that whenever something goes wrong, it’s always a tragedy.” The industry as a whole has a “remarkable record of safety,” he adds: With almost 430 cranes operating in the city, there have been only two serious accidents in the last six years, including this one. New York already has “the most stringent crane regulations in the country,” and with more high-rise construction here than anywhere else, crane operators have the most experience working in narrow streets.

The crane operator in the Feb. 5 accident, a Local 14 member, was “apparently following all the protocols,” the spokesperson said, but was doing a maneuver that would be very tricky even without winds of 20 to 25 mph: He was trying to turn a 565-foot boom around 180 degrees on a narrow street, so he could lower it into safety position.

“This guy was a hero because he stayed in the cab even as it flipped over,” the spokesperson said. “He stayed in the cab and kept the crane stable so it didn’t do more damage.”

February 8, 2016

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