May 1, 2019

At 3.30pm on Saturday April 26, 2019 construction workers on top of the Google building under construction in downtown Seattle were disassembling a construction crane when it collapsed, killing four people and injuring four others. As the city recovers from this tragic accident and loss of life, it’s hardly surprising that questions are being asked about how this happened and what steps should have been taken to prevent it.

The Rider Levett Bucknall’s Crane Index® for North America has positioned Seattle as the US city with the largest number of these giant construction cranes for each of the past three years.  Currently, more than 60 cranes dominate the city skyline. They have come to symbolize a building boom driven by an influx of tech jobs that has seen many big company names moving into downtown Seattle.

The unfortunate incident of last Saturday is the second crane collapse that Seattle has experienced in the past 15 years, with the last one occurring in 2006 in Bellevue. While there have only been two major crane collapses in the city, it’s quite likely there have been many more incidents, deaths and injuries when you consider the analysis carried out by The Center for Construction Research and Training and The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Center for Construction Research and Training analysis covered two specific periods, 1992-2006 and the year 2008.  In 1992-2006 there were 610 crane incidents recorded, with 89 involving crane collapses and an average of 42 deaths annually. The first 10 months of 2008 presented a similar picture with 83 crane incidents and 52 deaths. This remained consistent with a separate research project undertaken by The Bureau of Labor Statistics that covered 2011-2015. It identified 220 crane-related deaths, an annual average of 44. Almost half of these took place in the private construction industry with 14% relating to falls to a lower level.

The 2006 Bellevue crane collapse ultimately led to a tightening of State regulations for cranes. As with the 2006 accident, responsibility for establishing the cause of this latest crane collapse rests with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Four years after the Bellevue collapse, OSHA released updated and clarified crane operator standards and certifications requiring employers to have all crane operators trained and certified for the crane they are operating.

Early reports suggest that this recent crane collapse could have been caused by human error coupled with wind gusts. It’s possible that pins connecting the crane segments may have been removed prematurely. We’re unlikely to have a confirmed and clear picture for many weeks or even months as these investigations are complex and time consuming.  The Bellevue incident took six months to investigate before the results were published. Finding clues requires a thorough examination of the accident site and the crane including available CCTV, witness statements and investigation of the work methodologies being employed by the different contractors working on and around the crane.

While it’s likely to be some time before we can be sure of the cause of the latest incident it does serve as a reminder that many crane-related injuries and deaths are caused by negligence, poor communication, improper management and work methodologies. Not only do cranes need to be inspected regularly, operators need to be thoroughly trained and proper supervision is required. The failure to comply with best practices can have disastrous and tragic consequences for construction workers and those in the vicinity of crane sites.

Our team of crane experts have an average of over 25 years investigating such incidents.  For more information about our crane experts, please reach out to our knowledgeable and experienced project managers.