Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Crane Tower Collapses

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Crane Tower Collapses

Article excerpt

Klug & Smith Construction Inc. was building a malting plant in Idaho Falls, Idaho. When a crane tower collapsed on the site, injuring two structural iron workers, OSHA investigated. As a result of an inspection, Klug & Smith was issued a serious citation alleging two violations of OSHA standards: * 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2), which requires employers to instruct each employee in recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions in the work environment. * 20 CFR 1926.550(a)(1), which requires compliance with manufacturer's specifications and limitations.

Klug & Smith contested the citations, and the case was brought before Administrative Law Judge James Barkley (Secretary of Labor v. Klug & Smith Construction Inc.).

The record showed that the company was using a Manitowoc 4100 crane with a 183-ft vertical tower, a 170-ft working boom attached to the tower, and a pulley system at the rear of the crane known as the gantry. The tower's primary means of support are backstay legs, attached to the body of the crane with pins.

At the hearing, it was established that the crane operator had noticed that the crane's gantry assist arm, which allows the operator to raise and lower the gantry alone, was out of its track. Two ironworkers were assigned to help the crane operator reset the gantry. The crane operator testified that he told them that he would -boom down- a little in order to create some slack so that the gantry pins could be removed. He would then raise the gantry slightly to allow the assist arm to spring free. The crane operator said that he had pointed to the gantry pins about 15 ft above the two ironworkers.

The testimony of the ironworkers differed in some respects, but they both understood the crane operator to say that they were to move the gantry pins and the backstay pins. One ironworker said that he believed that the crane tower was to be laid down.

An oiler who was acting as a signalman saw that the gantry pins were removed, but didn't notice that the backstay pins were also gone. The oiler gave the signal to boom up and the tower tipped and collapsed, injuring both ironworkers.

The accident investigation disclosed that both ironworkers had had some experience in assembling cranes, but neither of them had assembled a Manitowoc 4100 before. It was also established that, during the assembly, the crane operator or a representative from the crane's owner gave the ironworkers specific instructions. Crane manuals were provided, but their contents were not reviewed with the ironworkers.

Both ironworkers testified that they knew that the backstay pins provided the only structural support for the crane tower, but that fact had slipped their minds.

In reviewing the evidence, Judge Barkley noted that the standard-in-question requires employers to warn employees about hazards "which would be known to a reasonably prudent employer or which are addressed by specific OSHA regulations." Barkley held that, in this case, however, the Secretary of Labor sought to hold the employer liable for task training.

In his decision, judge Barkley pointed out that if the simple repair required had been properly carried out, the crane's stability would not have been adversely affected; the hazard had arisen, in this case, from imperfect instructions. The court ruled that OSHA may not extend the reach of a standard beyond the regulation's language, thereby depriving an employer of fair warning of proscribed conduct.

Judge Barkley found a failure to show that the cited standard was applicable in this case. Accordingly, he vacated the citation.

The second serious citation for alleged failure to comply with the crane manufacturer's specifications and limitations, applicable to the operation of the crane, turned the focus of the inquiry to the crane manufacturer's instruction manual. Directions for lowering the crane tower include instructions that the gantry be raised to its highest point before removal of the backstay pins, but there are no specific instructions on the raising of the gantry. …

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