Monday, November 17, 2008

Whistleblower Warned of Crane Danger While NYC Buildings Department Did Nothing

As lawsuits press forward on behalf of those killed in a series of unfortunate crane accidents, it now appears that the Buildings Department knew, or should have known that there was something amiss with one of the cranes involved, and yet the Department did nothing. The head of the Department's crane and derricks unit warned of problems with the crane that eventually collapsed on May 30, 2008.
Whistleblower Bethany Klein, then head of the department's cranes & derricks unit, warned in an e-mail nine months before the May 30 disaster the tower crane was at risk of "catastrophic failure."

Last year, in a series of e-mails over several months with department experts and outside consultants, Klein expressed concerns over the nature and causes of damage to the crane at a midtown building site, documents show.

By the time the crane arrived at 333 E. 91st St. this year, it had been repaired by a New Jersey welding company. But a weld apparently failed, causing it to collapse.
The May accident resulted from a failed weld to fix problems associated with earlier discovered issues. Klein wrote of concerns months before the two deadly crane accidents:
"In a short period of time, NYC has experienced two tower cranes that had potential for catastrophic failure," she wrote to outside experts seeking advice. "Is it lightning [thus every crane]? Is it the make and model? Is it the age of the crane? Is it a maintenance issue?"
The City is going to have a difficult time trying to explain this away. In particular, it makes former Buildings Commissioner Lancaster look particularly bad, along with the enforcement division at the Department.

No one at the Department thought to give any more attention to the issues with this make and model of crane, or the cranes used throughout the city on skyscraper projects.

The series of crane accidents and other construction accidents around New York City put additional focus on how the Buildings Department failed in its basic obligation to the safety of the workers constructing these structures and relying on the cranes and the general public who has to live, work, and commute around these towering behemoths. The May 30 accident killed two people, and an earlier crane accident killed seven people. Commissioner Lancaster was "departed" from her role.

The entire sorry episode showed that there were corrupt inspections officials who didn't bother to properly inspect the cranes and other buildings undergoing construction and major renovations, a failure of oversight, and changes to crane operations have since been instituted. That includes requiring more vigorous inspections of cranes, especially when they are being jacked (raised/lowered into a new position).

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