Findings in April’s crane collapse lead to heightened concerns of crane operations industry wide

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SEATTLE - When the tower crane in South Lake Union collapsed and killed four people it was shocking.

On Thursday, state investigators with the Department of Labor & Industries released their findings of what exactly went wrong, but they also said that unsafe practices of disassembling tower cranes may be going on industry-wide.

Tower cranes are a sign of growth in any city.

For years, Seattle was leading the nation when it comes to the number of construction cranes.

Currently, Washington has 120 tower cranes, half of those in the city of Seattle.

With that in mind, what state investigators are now saying about the industry is disturbing.

“They weren’t really trained or aware of what they should be doing."

Three companies have now been fined for the April 27 deadly crane collapse in South Lake Union.

“What crews were supposed to do was take it down section by section from top to bottom with the help of an assist crane."

But what happened was that they took almost all the pins out that was holding the vertical mast together all at once.  Investigators say there was only one pin left.

When a wind gust blew, it toppled some of the sections of the crane onto Mercer Street.

Just because it’s a common practice doesn’t mean it was the correct practice.

One solution asked in Thursday’s press conference was whether or not cities should close down roads when a tower crane is coming down.

“The decision to close the street is between the contractors and municipalities over the construction site,” Anne Soiza with L & I said.

SDOT says on April 27, they had Valley Street and Boren Ave N and some sidewalks directly beneath the work zone closed down.

Seattle requires areas shut down if they are actively lifting moving materials overhead. Mercer Street was not shut down because it didn’t meet that requirement, but even if SDOT were to expand road closures moving forward the traffic impacts could be enormous.

Outside of SDOT, what can the Department of Construction and Inspections do?

Director Nathan Torgelson wasn’t available for an interview on Friday but his spokesperson said they are looking to the state for changes.

“Under state law, The Department of Labor & Industries (L & I) is responsible for establishing a rigorous certification process to make sure that tower cranes are set up, operated, and removed as safely as possible. Due to the specialized nature of this work, the City relies on the expertise of certified operators and inspectors to determine how to dismantle and operate cranes safely. Since the tragedy on April 27, L & I have taken steps to notify contractors of their responsibility to follow manufacturer’s specifications to ensure safe operation, assembly, and removal of cranes. We understand that since this summer, L & I is conducting inspections of crane assembly and removal and will soon begin examining their own rules regarding this process. We’ll be evaluating any future changes at the state level regarding crane assembly and removal.”

When they are bringing down a tower crane, the question is should L & I make that a mandatory requirement and will they have enough resources to send an inspector to oversee the process?

L&I says they will be considering ideas, including that question, as they come up with new requirements.

Whatever changes they make, it will get national attention because back in June they sent out a hazard alert nationwide informing other states of the safety issues they have uncovered in the crane industry.

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