By: Carol A. Sigmond
Over the last eight years, there have been at least nine people killed in crane accidents in New York City: six on March 15, 2008, one on April 3, 2012, one on November 5, 2015, and one on February 6, 2016. In addition, there was an accident in May 2008, and another in January 2013 with no deaths, but many injuries. In addition, more than a dozen people were injured, some seriously in those incidents. For several weeks a tower crane suffered damage in Hurricane Sandy leaving a portion of the crane looming over West 57th Street for weeks. All had associated property damages, loss and inconvenience for neighbors.
The New York City Department of Buildings has reacted to these accidents in various ways. After the 2008 accidents, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed the top management at the DOB. The new team at DOB engaged in an intensive review of the qualifications of crane operators and began disqualifying operators. Many of the disqualifications arose out of dated labor racketeering violations. In the ensuing litigation, which has lasted for years, the DOB has had mixed results. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the various cases involving the crane operators with old labor racketeering convictions, crane safety in New York City did not really improve.
After the February 6, 2016 accident, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new fines for crane safety violations, raising the fines from $4,800 per incident to $10,000. In addition, new measures relating to high winds and street closures were developed.
On March 15, 2016, the DOB Commissioner Rick D. Chandler issued a new Order respecting crawler crane safety. The basic provisions of this order are: crane users must follow all manufacturer recommendations; crane operators and safety officers on jobs with cranes must monitor the weather for wind issues; new detailed wind safety requirements tailored for the weight and configuration of the cranes; new requirements to monitor weather reports hourly for winds above 20mph and 30 mph; new requirements for documenting crane security during winds; and new requirements for notifying the DOB, FDNY and local business and buildings about crane movements and changes, which includes new pedestrian and vehicle safety rules with more street closures.
These regulations are interim only. The entire issue is before the DOB Advisory Committee and the Crane Technical Working Group headed by Mary C. Boyce, Dean of Engineering at The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. That group is continuing to review the technical data in order to Formulate permanent regulations.
For cooperative and condominium owners and residents with roof mounted services, these new crane regulations will mean four things;
- the cost of cranes for lifting air conditioning units and other equipment up and down from roofs will increase significantly;
- street and sidewalk closing permits will be more difficult to obtain and take longer to process;
- these projects will be significantly more expensive based on the regulatory changes; and the significantly increased insurance premium for crane operations in New York City based on the accident history; and
- there will be more access issues for buildings and neighbors associated with these operations.
New York City urgently needs improved construction safety overall. There were 18 deaths in fiscal year 2015 (October 1, 2014 — September 30, 2015) and every one of those deaths was preventable. The DOB is taking steps to correct this in many areas. Hopefully, this program will be more effective than prior efforts.
This column presents a general discussion. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult your attorney for specific legal advice.