New Regulations Clamp Down on Cranes

The falling crane killed one person and crushed several cars parked along Worth St. on Feb. 5, prompting new regulations from the city. Photo by Milo Hess.
A falling crane killed one person and crushed several cars parked along Worth St. on Feb. 5, prompting new regulations from the city. Photo by Milo Hess.

BY COLIN MIXSON | The city took the first steps towards tightening regulations of construction cranes and their operators, implementing several measures designed to prevent collapses like the one that claimed the life of a man in Tribeca earlier this year.

The action by the Department of Buildings (DOB) follows the recommendations of a crane-safety panel set up in the wake of the Feb. 5 toppling of a crawler crane on Worth St. When the Crane Safety Technical Working Group reported its findings last month, Community Board 1(CB1) called on the city to move swiftly to implement the proposed regulations before they could be diluted by pushback from the construction industry.

“I’m very pleased that DOB has acted so quickly to adopt some of the recommendations from the working group,” said Jeff Ehrlich, a member of the board’s Tribeca Committee who lives on Chambers St.

The new regulations were put into effect at the end of June by order of DOB Commissioner Rick Chandler, and may be tweaked and refined over the coming weeks as they’re written into the city’s construction code, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The new rules include:

  • Requiring mobile cranes to be fitted with wind measuring devices, called anemometers, which record real-time wind readings.
  • Requiring contractors to hire “on-site lift coordinators” with the authority to shutdown crane operations in the event of unsafe conditions.
  • Restricting mobile crane operations whenever winds exceed 30 miles per hour.
  • Requiring crane operators to secure cranes when not in use as per a specified “wind-action plan,” which includes retracted, jackknifed, and laid-down positions.

These regulations are in addition to emergency measures taken immediately after February’s crane collapse, which included banning mobile cranes rated for 20 mile per hour wind gusts or less from operating on public streets, and an increase in fines related to “failure to safeguard cranes” from $4,800 to $10,000, both of which will remain in effect.

Furthermore, the now-mandated on-site lift coordinators will be subject to unannounced inspections, during which city sleuths will check recorded wind readings at work sites and compare them to the actions of the lift coordinators to ensure operations were shutdown in accordance with the commissioner’s mandate.

Joe Soldevere, a spokesperson for the DOB, stressed that additional regulations will likely follow, and that the new rules announced last month comprise measures that the building’s department felt could be implemented without new legislation on the part of city council, and which were simple enough to be implemented quickly.

“We will have additional actions to announce in terms of enacting the recommendations that the working group has already made,” said Soldevere, “but as the commissioner said, these regulations are solid, sensible, and do-able.”

Bruce Ehrmann, another member of CB1’s Tribeca Committee, expressed concern over the new regulation’s maximum wind-speed, despite praising the city as “basically doing the right thing.”

“I’m uncomfortable with a 30-miles-per-hour wind threshold,” said Tribeca resident Erhmann. “I’m not an engineer, I’m basing that on terror — on the terror of living on a block where a crane crash destroyed two blocks and killed someone. That’s all pure viscera.”

The deadly collapse in Tribeca that still concerns Erhmann isn’t the only instance of a crane toppling over in recent memory.

A crane collapse on July 19 snarled traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge for four hours, although motorists largely escaped the crash unharmed, with only three drivers suffering “very minor” injuries, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who spoke a press conference following the accident.

The collapse occurred amid a $3.9 billion project to replace the aging 1955 span, and the toppled crane was one among 28 that were installing pilings using a vibrating hammer at the time that it fell.

The governor described the fallen crane as a newer model, which had conducted heavier work than it was at the time of the accident.