7 On Your Side Investigates joins DOB on surprise crane inspections

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Jim Hoffer has more on the surprise crane inspections.

High winds are not uncommon in New York City and across the Tri-State Area and come with a warning to construction crews to make sure huge cranes are properly secured.

The Department of Buildings made surprise inspections Wednesday to check if construction companies were in compliance, and 7 On Your Side Investigates Jim Hoffer was along for the ride.

At one construction site in Brooklyn, it wasn't high winds that forced a huge crawler crane to shut down operations. Rather, it was an electrical glitch with a device that measures wind speed at the top of crane's boom.

"(The device) must be operational before they resume activity," DOB inspector Michael Linton said. "(They're shut down) until they get it corrected."

Ever since a similar crawler crane came crashing down on a windy winter morning in 2016, killing a passerby, all big cranes are now required to have wind measuring devices that tell the cab operator wind speeds in real time.

"It puts notification to crane operators that winds are above what he should be operating at," Deputy Commissioner Timothy Hogan said.

Now, when winds exceed 30 miles per hour, all cranes must cease operating. Another change coming out of that fatal accident is that all cranes must have a lift director, and crane operators who get caught operating unsafely face stiffer fines.

"In a lot of cases, if an operator takes a risk or cuts corners, they personally get violated for up to $25,000," Hogan said.

We've learned, however, that the number of crane inspectors is down from five years ago. Today, there are just 12 inspectors checking on more than 300 cranes across five boroughs. There were 13 in 2013.

"We always have flexibility," Hogan said. "When we need crane inspection help, we bring in additional inspectors from other parts of the agency."

While there are tougher regulations following the 2016 fatal crane accident, safety still relies mostly on the honor system and the hope that crane operators don't take risks when the weather turns bad.

The buildings department insists they have cracked down on unsafe crane operations, nearly doubling the number of violations from 4,000 five years ago to 8,000 last year.

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