NYC Crane Collapse Part of a Troubling Trend

NYC Crane Collapse

Last week’s crane collapse in Lower Manhattan, which killed one person and injured three others, has heightened focus on crane safety, resulting in stricter rules for operators. The 565-foot crane toppled as it was being secured against high winds as a safety precaution.

More than 140 firefighters responded to the disaster in addition to police officers and utility workers who were there in case of gas leaks or other damage caused by the impact.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an investigation and instituted new safety policies effective immediately, while ordering that 376 other crawler cranes and 53 larger tower cranes currently operating in the city also be secured. The new rules require crawler cranes to cease operations and go into safety mode when there is a forecast for steady wind speeds of at least 20 miles per hour, or gusts of at least 30 m.p.h. Previously, cranes were allowed to operate until measured wind speeds reached 30 m.p.h. or gusts increased to 40 m.p.h.

“I want people to hear me loud and clear: We’ve had some construction site incidents that are very troubling,” de Blasio said at a news conference. “We have more and more inspectors who are going to get on top of that. We’re going to be very tough on those companies.”

He added, “We’ll send advisories to crane engineers when wind conditions warrant it, and engineers will be required to certify that they will indeed cease operations. If we don’t receive this certification, we will be issuing violations and we will raise the base penalty for failure to safeguard a site from the current $4,800 to $10,000.”

While construction in the city has increased over the past two years, the New York Times reported that the rise in deaths and injuries has exceeded the rate of new construction, that supervision at building sites was often lacking, and that preventative safety steps were not being taken.

Indeed, the list of incidents involving cranes has grown to eight since 2008, according to ABC News and the Associated Press.

— March 2008: A nearly 200-foot-tall crane fell as it was being lengthened in a neighborhood near the U.N. headquarters, demolishing a townhouse and killing six construction workers and a tourist. The crane rigger was tried and acquitted of manslaughter. An inspector accused of falsely saying he had checked the crane days before it toppled was acquitted of charges related to the collapse but convicted of falsifying inspection records related to other cranes.

— May 2008: A tower crane snapped, fell apart and crashed into a Manhattan apartment building, killing the crane operator and a construction worker on the ground. The crane owner was acquitted of manslaughter. A mechanic pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Together, the 2008 collapses prompted the resignation of the city buildings commissioner and a bribery case in which the city’s chief crane inspector pleaded guilty to taking payoffs to fake inspection and licensing exam results. The collapses also led to new safety measures, including hiring more inspectors and expanding training requirements and inspection checklists.

However, Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a 2014 audit that the city Department of Buildings hadn’t fully implemented safety recommendations on cranes and other issues, and Stringer reiterated his concerns Friday. The Department of Buildings disputed some of the audit’s conclusions, but spokesman Joe Soldevere said the agency had implemented many of the comptroller’s recommendations and “there is more oversight of cranes in place than ever before.”

— October 2012: A crane’s boom nearly snapped off and dangled precariously over a block near Carnegie Hall during Superstorm Sandy, as winds gusted to an estimated 80 to 100 mph. No one was injured, but people in a nearby hotel and other neighboring buildings had to flee in the midst of the storm as engineers scaled 74 stories to make sure the crane wasn’t in danger of falling.

— April 2012: A mobile crane’s boom fell and broke apart while hauling rebar at a subway station construction site, killing a worker. The site was exempt from most city construction safety rules because it belonged to a state transit authority.

— January 2013: A crane’s 170-foot-long boom fell and pulled down part of the wooden framework of an apartment tower under construction in Queens, injuring seven workers. Three workers had to be extricated from beneath fallen machinery.

— April 2015: Hydraulics malfunctioned on a small crane mounted on a truck while a worker was inspecting it in Manhattan, causing the boom to collapse and fall on him, killing him. The device wasn’t subject to the same regulations and inspections as larger cranes.

— May 2015: A mobile crane dropped a 13-ton air conditioning unit being placed atop a Manhattan office building. The air conditioning equipment fell 28 stories into the middle of an avenue. Ten people were injured by debris, and part of the building facade was shattered.

Zero Tolerance Needed to Stop Construction Injuries

Photo by Caroline McDonald

NASHVILLE–For David B. Walls, president and chief executive officer of Austin Industries, construction safety became a lifelong mission the day he had to answer to the father of a worker killed in an accident. “Why did you kill my son?” he asked Walls over and over.

“Those words haunted me,” Walls said during his keynote address at the IRMI Construction Risk Conference here. “Nothing I could do would bring him back.” Tragic events such as this are “defining moments,” he said. “But we need to get passionate about safety without experiencing a fatality.” Walls explained that the construction industry has a long way to go, with the worst record for fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organizations, he added, should focus on the physical work environment and the company culture. They also need to realize that a world-class safety program leads to higher quality throughout the organization.

One prerequisite is strong leadership. A good leader takes the time to really listen to people, admits to making mistakes and shares recognition for a project well done with employees, he said. This person also should be consistent in addressing safety issues and assertive enough to stop workers from continuing on a job if unsafe conditions are evident.

An effective leader needs to be accountable and hold the entire team accountable when it comes to safety. For example, workers need to know that breaking certain safety rules could cost them their job. After all, he said, “you have a moral obligation to get employees home to their families each night in a safe condition.”

Walls recommended frequent discussions of company successes as well as failures. Weekly dialogues of near-misses, for example, can raise awareness about how they could have been prevented and encourage safe behaviors. Posting the safety records of contractors “makes them improve quickly,” he said. Walls advocates for both classroom and thorough on-the-job training.

Safety managers and employees also need to focus on what they might be overlooking, the “sins of omission.” For example, he said, “what are you not doing that you could be doing to save lives?” The litmus test, he added, would be for a manager to ask him or herself, “Would I let my child work here?”

Asked by an audience member how to get the necessary buy-in from a CEO, Walls advised, “Get the CEO to walk the job and see the hazards. Go to the job site and see where someone fell and where the accident took place. Two to three people a day are dying in this industry and it is unacceptable.”

Construction Fraud Costs An Estimated $860 Billion

Infrastructure Construction

Fraud in the construction business is “commonplace and in some cases endemic across Australia, Canada, India, the UK and the US,” according to a new report from Grant Thornton, amassing a global price tag of up to $860 billion today—between 5% and 10% of total revenues. The accounting and advisory group projects that annual fraud cost in the sector could rise to $1.5 trillion by 2025.

“The greatest threat of fraud comes from within—from employees and senior management,” said David Malamed, fraud expert at Grant Thornton Canada.

While the risk of insider fraud is highest, the odds of fraud in a construction project increase drastically with the number of stakeholders. The primary sources of major frauds in the sector include billing fraud, bid rigging, money laundering or tax avoidance, theft or substitution of materials, bribery or corruption, false representation (of documents, figures, certificates), change order manipulation and fictious vendors, LiveMint reported.

“Individuals and organizations need to invest the time and money to put a fraud prevention and detection plan into action before they become a victim,” said Bo Mocherniak, Grant Thornton’s national leader for construction, real estate and hospitality. “The push for fraud prevention requires strong governance and leadership, and must start at the very top of the organization.”

But one of the primary nations at risk offered promising news for public risk managers this month on the efficacy of anti-corruption efforts in the sector. In Canada, the Quebec government announced a $240-million savings on road contracts alone for the first 10 months of the year. According to the Globe and Mail, Minister of Transportation Sylvain Gaudreault said the building and maintenance of roads and bridges in the province has dropped 16% below the estimated costs projected for 2013, crediting the battle against corruption and collusion for forcing builders and engineering firms to play by a tougher set of rules.

Gaudreault’s administration has focused on more rigorous oversight and enforcement to minimize graft losses over the past year. Moves are currently on hold in the formation of a formal transportation agency tasked with approving and monitoring road construction and maintenance contracts, but the minister has hired 321 employees – including 118 engineers – to “reinforce” the expertise in his department. The local government has also promised legislation in the coming weeks aimed at recovering at least part of the money obtained by construction and engineering firms through collusion and fraud, the Globe and Mail reported.

Ten Tips for Mitigating Risk in Construction Projects

Coordinating insurance and risk management concerns with the need of a construction project can be challenging. In their latest, online-exclusive column in Risk Management magazine, Robert Horkovich and Kevin Connolly of Anderson, Kill & Ollick, offer some important tips to ensuring that insurance contracts and construction contracts are properly aligned.

1. Recognize the construction contract as the bedrock of risk management.
The contract documents are the place for agreements to provide insurance, as well as additional insured provisions, indemnity and exculpation clauses. They are also the place to make clear which parties are responsible for the many surprises that arise during the course of construction, from latent subsurface conditions to accidents and failures to construct the project in the manner that the owners and designers intended.

For more, check out the rest of the article, only on RMmagazine.com.