NYC cranes and inspectors

February 4, 2009 6:13:20 PM PST
Construction in New York City remains, despite fears of recession, a booming industry. On any given day, 250 or so cranes pierce the skyline. Looking over them is a couple handfuls of crane inspectors, and that's it.

So, what about this building, that has been sliced like some high rise birthday cake? What it was supposed to look like is not exactly what it looks like now.

The Investigators' Jim Hoffer has more.

Following the crane collapse in March, special inspection teams were sent out to assure a shaken city that these massive steel towers were safe.

The latest collapse tells us simply that they are not, and no amount of reassurance from politicians at podiums can change that fact.

With two more deaths added to the city's list of construction fatalities, the mayor is trying to downplay any connection between the two deadly crane accidents:

"The two crane collapses in a short period of time look like a pattern, but there is no reason to think that there is any real connection," Bloomberg said.

The fact is that the similarities are striking and underscore a city still unable to ensure the safe operation of cranes that dot Manhattan's skyline. Like the collapse in March, this latest accident has investigators focusing on possible mechanical failure.

"We believe what may have happened is the bolts may have snapped, which why the cab fell into the building," said Louis Colletti, of the Building Trades Employers Association.

Contractors at the accident site, like those 10 weeks ago, had received numerous serious violations. In this case, one involved the operation of a crane in an unsafe manner. Another was for failure to have a site safety manager. They were all signs, one expert says, that show speed is valued more safety.

"It's lack of supervision at a higher level," Jeffrey Manheimer said. "It's pushed by the contractors, the owners, to get the job done and are now putting the public at risk."

There are 250 cranes operating in the city on any given day. Yet despite a record building boom, the city has fewer than a dozen specialized crane inspectors, who increasingly seemed unable to keep up with the oversight.

"These inspectors make $40,000 a year," Colletti said. "They don't get training they deserve and the city can't afford to hire on their payroll the kind of expertise you need on a day to day basis."

One source considered a national expert on cranes tells us this looks like a catastrophic failure of the crane turn table, which is what the crane rests on and allows it to turn 360 degrees.

If bolts on the turn table fractured or failed, it would have caused this turn table and cab to separate from the crane tower. It is just a theory, but it comes from someone who really knows what they are talking about.