Manhattan is famous for its skyscrapers. The island boasts some of the most iconic high rise buildings in the world including the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, and One World Trade Center. Constructing these impressive buildings is no small feat of engineering. Among the equipment used to build such impressive structures are cranes. These cranes lift equipment and materials high into the sky to the upper floors of tall buildings. The cranes themselves are often large structures that can pose a considerable risk should something go wrong. Unfortunately, just such an incident occurred in early February of 2016 in New York City.
A crawler crane located at a former Western Union building in Lower Manhattan came crashing to the ground on the morning of February 5th. It had been brought in to install generators as well as air conditioning units on top of the building. The crane had just been inspected the day prior to the tragic accident by New York City’s Building Department when the department had approved an extension of the crane. At the time of the accident, the crane was extended up 565 feet in the air. The workers had decided to bring the crane down from this soaring height because it was getting windy. The crane is designed to carry up to 330 tons and to “withstand wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour,” according to the New York Times. The wind on that morning was reaching 20 miles per hour. As the workers began to lower the crane, “instead of a steady, controlled descent, the crane began to topple over suddenly before plunging into a free fall.” The crane slammed into the ground on Worth Street in TriBeCa.
The crane injured three people and killed David Wichs, 38 who was walking on the street at the time of the accident. It also crushed cars, littered the street with debris, and caused water and gas leaks. The collapse is being investigated by the Police Department, as well as the Building Department.
Accidents at construction sites can involve not only bystanders but also construction workers themselves. New York City is in the middle of a building boom and has experienced an increasing number of construction worker injuries and fatalities. According to an investigation by the New York Times, “[t]he rise in deaths and injuries — mostly among undocumented immigrant laborers — far exceeds the rate of new construction over the same period.” The increase reflects the view that there are inadequate safety measures at constructions sites. The Times reported that most of the construction accidents in the past two years could have been avoided. The investigation found that workers who fell were not wearing harnesses or helmets and there was a lack of supervision and rushed timelines. The accidents usually involved workers who were not in a union and not well trained. In addition, the contractors involved, often “had been previously cited for safety violations and failed to pay penalties.”
Workers at construction sites have a high risk of injury all over the country. According to statistics from the United States Department of Labor, of the 4,251 worker fatalities in the private sector in 2014, 874 were in construction. The most common causes of death dubbed the “fatal four” were falls, electrocution, being struck by an object, or being caught in or between objects.
As construction work can be incredibly dangerous, proper safety measures must be taken to prevent injuries to both workers and bystanders. Failure to take such precautions can lead to legal liability for those responsible for the injuries.