Last week New Yorkers witnessed a fatal crane collapse in TriBeCa. The catastrophic event was caught on a spectator’s camera phone and has since led Mayor Di Blasio to put in place tighter City regulations and has caused an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The investigation is set to determine whether high winds, mechanical error or human error played into the collapse of the two hundred yard tall crane. Like many people assumed, initial experts are claiming that the accident was a combination of human error and high winds.
So what would make a contractor liable for this type of accident? Well, for starters, an investigator must first look to see if the machinery was in proper working order and was properly maintained. Obviously, if the contractors are using equipment which is unsafe and it leads to a fatal accident they will be held civilly (and possibly criminally) responsible for their actions. Second, you must determine whether the machine was being used in accordance with the safety standards set forth by the City, the State and other governing bodies such as OSHA. Moreover, each large construction project should have its own site specific safety plan which outlines the safety standards to be used for each specific trade on a specific construction job. For example, the construction project in TriBeCa which was the subject of this crane accident should have had a specific safety plan in place which conforms with all the rules set forth by the governing bodies and the City; this safety plan should have been distributed to each of the trades/sub-contractors working on the job; it should lay out exactly when it is safe to use the crane, the proper procedure to operate the crane and how to take it out of commission in the event of bad weather or high winds. Failure to have a site specific safety plan is an automatic violation of OSHA and is negligent practice. An inspector must interview the crane operator to determine if he was operating the crane in conformance with the safety plan set forth prior to the beginning of the construction project.
Furthermore, a sub-contractor must have weekly and monthly safety meetings where the specific trades discuss different safety topics each week and discuss with their workers the proper way to safely work on the construction site. Furthermore, the general contractor is required to have a safety manager on each construction job who continually inspects the construction site to make sure things are operating safely. The general contractor is also responsible to have regular meetings with the heads of each of the trades to update them as to what safety rules are being violated and what needs to be done to make the construction project safer.
As we all know construction sites are inherently dangerous and strict compliance with the rules are necessary in order to protect the safety of workers and nearby pedestrians.
So ultimately in order to determine whether the TriBeCa crane accident was negligence on the part of the general contractor or merely an uncontrollable act of god, investigators and compliance offices must go back and review 1) what rules were in place, 2) determine if those rules were appropriate, 3) make sure the equipment was properly maintained with proper certifications and 4) that proper planning was laid out by the contractor to foresee a potential hazard and create a proper safety plan to solve the issue.