Investigations

New regulation raising crane safety questions

Monday, December 23, 2013

Some are saying it's a step backward for crane safety.

After years of tightening inspections and licensing, the City Council in its last session of 2013 passed amendments to the building code.

One of the changes reduces oversight of cranes just as the city enters a big construction boom.

When heavy steel pieces are hoisted over construction sites and New York City streets, it's the Master Rigger who makes sure it's done safely.

"He's like a conductor for the orchestra," said Master Rigger David O'Connell.

From the ground, he's orchestrating equipment, workers, and material assisting the crane operator high above to make sure nothing goes wrong.

It takes five years of training to become a Master Rigger. But late last week, the City Council quietly passed a regulation that allows contractors in many cases to substitute the highly-skilled Master Rigger with someone who has had about 32 hours of training.

"The 32 hour person is going to walk in on the job site and say where's my crew, I never met them before, where's my equipment, I've never seen it before," said O'Connell.

Master Riggers say it's a huge step backward in crane safety after real reforms following the deadly back-to-back crane accidents in 2008.

And an Eyewitness News investigation last month, showed now is not the time to loosen crane oversight. We found dozens of safety violations in one case "putting the risk of workers being hurt or killed extremely high" or "lifting heavy material over an occupied work trailer with people inside."

"There is no real oversight. There are not enough people in the field. Not enough follow up," said construction safety attorney Susan Karten.

The city did hire more inspectors, shut down old cranes, and put unsafe operators out of business. So why the move to reduce the oversight role of the Master Rigger?

"Pity to say it's big business, to drop a dollar cost of the job site," said O'Connell.

The Buildings Department says the revised building code goes beyond federal guidelines for rigging operations and requires certification of riggers.

Critics say however this new certified rigger will have far less experience than a master rigger who's oversight role is being reduced.

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