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Investigation into fatal construction accidents

April 4, 2012 5:50:44 PM PDT
The New York City Transit Agency is racing to inspect cranes at all of its construction sites after a deadly accident Tuesday night.

One worker died and several others were hurt when a crane that was building an extension of the number 7 line suddenly collapsed.

It happened at 34th Street and 11th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan.

This is the latest in a string of construction accidents within the past few weeks.

Safety investigators inspected the crane's broken boom at the MTA's 7-line construction site Wednesday.

They are focusing on the crane's cable after reports from workers that it may have snapped causing the boom to break in two, part of it striking and killing a Burlington, New Jersey man working below.

A construction safety attorney says one of two things could have caused the crane cable to snap.

"If the cable snapped, gain, it's because the load is too heavy or the cable was frayed or was partially split and nobody picked it up," said Jeffrey Manheimer, Construction Safety Attorney.

Yonkers Contracting owns and operates the mobile crane.

Labor Department records show the firm has few safety violations, especially considering the massive projects its building.

What does stand out for the city is the bad stretch of fatal construction accidents that have occurred in less than two weeks.

Twelve days ago, a worker was crushed to death in a collapse at a Columbia University building site.

One week later, a worker fell to his death while on the Throggs Neck Bridge being refurbished by the MTA.

Tuesday, there was another fatality at a home construction collapse in Brooklyn, followed hours later by the crane fatality.

"It's unusual because the city cracked down after all the crane accidents," Manheimer said.

There have been four deaths in 12 days, two of them at an MTA site.

That has one politician calling for a change in the law that precludes the city from having safety oversight of MTA projects.

"If we had this authority, the MTA would have been required for example to submit an engineers' report prior to using the crane last night. We would also have had open and constant access to the construction site," New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

The MTA later released a lengthy statement saying: "The MTA shares City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's concern for the safety of MTA construction sites. As a state public authority, the MTA already is subject to state building codes. The MTA is examining the Speaker's proposal to put all MTA construction activity under the inspection authority of the New York City Department of Buildings.

Crane contractors working on MTA construction projects are required to obtain annual operating certificates from the NYC Department of Buildings, and to post their current inspection certifications on the crane. The site of yesterday's incident is city-owned property, which also gives the NYC Department of Buildings jurisdiction to inspect cranes there. The two attached documents show the reports from the two most recent NYC Department of Buildings inspections of the Yonkers Contracting Company Inc. crane in operation during yesterday's incident.

On July 14, 2011, the NYC Department of Buildings performed an annual inspection of the crane. Its written report indicated "No Deficiencies" at the top of the first page, and finished with the conclusion "No deficiencies found on crane at time of inspection."

On January 10, 2012, the NYC Department of Buildings attempted to inspect the crane. This was done to change the month of the annual inspection cycle from July to February. The inspection report again indicated "No Deficiencies" at the top of the first page. However, because the crane was in operation during the inspection, a three-month extension was issued by the NYC Department of Buildings. The notation at the end of the form reads, "crane cannot be laid down to inspect boom section, safetys only checked, ok to issue 3 month extenstion" (sic). The NYC Department of Buildings informed the MTA that the follow-up inspection was scheduled to be completed tomorrow, April 5, 2012.

The MTA has asked the NYC Department of Buildings to investigate the cause of the crane collapse and is cooperating fully with its investigation."

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