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Sixty-one Legal Questions About The Seattle Crane Collapse Accident That Need To Be Answered

Updated on: 2/17/2020

Crane Accident Investigation Questions: Crane DismantlingCrane Disassembly ProceduresGeneral Crane SafetyCrane MaintenancePersonnel & Training

crane accident in Seattle
                             Photo Credit: Associated Press

There are more than 60+ planning, safety, procedural, maintenance, personnel and training questions that are critical to the investigation of the crane accident and which are essential to any future legal action.

Seattle Crane Collapse Causes Four Injuries & Four Fatalities

On Saturday, April 27, 2019 at around 3:30pm a construction crane that was being dismantled on Google’s new Seattle campus collapsed near the intersection of Mercer Street and Fairview Avenue in the South Lake Union neighborhood.  The Liebherr Hammerhead Tower Crane Model 550 EC-H crane fell across a building before falling onto six cars on the street below. 

Four people were injured and another four died in the tragic accident. 

Crane industry protocols call for a detailed disassembly plan to be in place before deconstruction begins.  Plans can have as many as 70 steps or more. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries in cooperation with the City of Seattle and Seattle Police Department are investigating the cause of the accident.  Some media outlets have reported that wind may have been a factor.  According to the National Weather Service wind gusts between 18 and 23 miles per hour were recorded in the general vicinity.

The companies responsible for the construction site include:

As a law firm with experiencing handling catastrophic accident cases such as the Skagit River Bridge collapse and construction injuries including the Bellevue street sweeper accident a recent wind-related construction elevator crash at Seattle’s F5 Tower, we know that there are critical questions that must be answered during the investigation in order to determine liability and lay the proper foundation for a successful injury or wrongful death lawsuit.  Below is information related to the April 2019 Seattle crane collapse and a list of just a few critical questions that need answers.  

Crane Accident Investigation Questions 

Crane Dismantling Planning Questions

  • Was there a clearly defined dismantling sequence and safety plan for the disassembly of the crane?  
  • Who was responsible for the planning and supervision of the crane disassembly? Was it an employee of Vulcan, GLY Construction, Morrow Equipment Company, or some other company?
  • Had those responsible for creating the crane disassembly safety plane extensively analyze past crane accidents in an effort to understand how to avoid known hazards?
  • Had the specific dismantling sequence and safety plan been properly communicated to all involved?
  • What are current industry best practices for safely dismantling cranes and what steps did the employer make to ensure the crane disassembly crew had the proper skills and knowledge?
  • Did the construction and/or crane base site have any access/security issues that could have impacted safety?
  • Why did the deconstruction zone area for traffic diversion not include Mercer Street to ensure the safety of the general public?
  • What are the weather-related and environmental guidelines and safety procedures for crane disassembly?  What is the maximum safe windspeed?
  • Who is responsible for making weather-related safety judgments?
  • Were any judgments made regarding wind speed and other environmental factors that may have impacted the performance of the equipment?
  • What sort of safety checklists does Liebherr Group provide for crane disassembly?
  • Does Morrow Equipment Company have its own safety checklists for crane disassembly?
  • Had the crane manufacturer’s disassembly specifications been reviewed and fully integrated into the dismantling plan as per OSHA’s requirement that employer comply with manufacturer specifications and limitations?
  • Who was operating the mobile crane that is required to dismantle the tower crane?
  • How many crew members were assigned to the crane dismantling project that day? Were they all employed by the same company?
  • Did the workers receive their certification/licensing from an OSHA-accredited testing service or an independently audited employer program? 

Crane Assembly / Disassembly Procedures Questions

  • Did the crane have the proper wood or metal blocking supports to stabilize the loads and/or the crane itself?
  • Had the cranes counter weights been removed (or improperly removed)?
  • Had riggers knocked out the pins that connect the tower sections together or connect the jib to the tower section?
  • Was there a failure of rigging equipment while lifting portions of the crane?
  • How long was the jib? Had the jib been removed and/or broken down into smaller pieces?
  • At the time of the accident was a mobile crane hooked up to the jib and/or tower?
  • At the time of the accident had riggers removed the pins holding the jib to the turntable?
  • At the time of the accident was a mobile crane attached to counter jib, riggers? 
  • At the time of the accident were they in the process of removing bracing and attachment to turntable?
  • Had the a-frame, jib and counterweights already been removed?
  • Was the fallen section part of the tower section? 
  • Had the entire length of the tower section been unpinned/unbolted?
  • Were too many pins/bolts pulled out/removed given the weather conditions? 
  • Were pins/bolts removed out of the pre-defined removal sequence? 

General Crane Safety Questions

  • Was the crane properly assembled at the beginning of the project?
  • Had the construction site been cited for safety violations and/or had their been safety complaints from members of the community?
  • Were the sections lying on top of the cars after the crash portions of the tower section?

Crane Maintenance Questions

  • Was there some sort of mechanical failure?
  • Was the crane maintained regularly to prevent accidents caused by mechanical failures?
  • Over the course of the construction project were issues with crane components quickly addressed and/or any problems repaired promptly?
  • When was the crane equipment last inspected?

Crane Personnel & Training Questions

  • Who was the disassembly project manager in charge of determining the best safety procedures and instructions for dismantling the tower crane?  Who was his/her employer?
  • How many people were working on the disassembly project at the time of the accident?  What were there roles and responsibilities?
  • Who was at the crane controls at the time of the accident?
  • Was the crane operator in compliance with qualifying state or local licensing requirements?
  • Did the workers receive their certification/licensing from an OSHA-accredited testing service or an independently audited employer program?
  • Had the crane crew and operator’s employer met the OSHA requirement to periodically evaluate crane operators and document those evaluations?
  • Did the crane crew and operator complete required written and practical testing?
  • Was the crew and or operator certified/licensed to work on this specific type of crane and lifting capacity as per OSHA requirements?
  • Did the general contractor require their subcontractors to verify that crane operators are certified?
  • Where there any indications that the actions of a crane operator could compromise the safety of a worksite? If so, why didn’t supervisors intervene?
  • When was the last performance review of each member of the crane project crew?
  • How closely was the employer monitoring the on-the-job performance of crane crew and operators?
  • What sort of employee on boarding, training and continuing education programs did the crane crew and operators complete?
  • Were there trainees or operators-in-training on the job site at the time of the accident? If so, what were their assigned duties that day and who was supervising them? And who authorized on-the-job training / mentorship?
  • Had the crane operator demonstrated proficiency completing crane-related inspections, reading load charts, calculating loads, and smoothly operating the crane to handle loads?
  • Had the operator or crew completed any supplemental competency programs via union apprenticeships or other?
  • How vigilant were contractors in evaluating the competence of crew and operators to safely manage/operate equipment for all of the disassembly-related tasks?
  • How much experience did the crane crew and operator have successfully disassembling this specific crane type, configuration, and capacity?
  • What had the crane disassembly crew’s employer done to ensure that each crew member had been trained on how to properly dismantle a crane; were certified/licensed accordingly; and evaluate their experience/competence to safely dismantle the crane?
  • Did the company responsible for the crane disassembly ensure that crew and operators possessed proper equipment-specific skills, knowledge, experience and certification?
  • Did the crew supporting the deconstruction understand basic crane principles, general crane characteristics, their individual roles and responsibilities, and national standard guidelines?
  • Was the team supporting the disassembly familiar with the particular crane unit? 
  • How many months or years of actual operating experience did the crane operator have?
  • Had the crane operator’s employer met OSHA’s minimum requirements for determining operator competency?

Photo of the fully operational crane during the construction of the Google building.  Photo Credit: Google Maps

Chris Davis
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Chris Davis is the founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.
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