Officials Broaden Focus of Inquiry Into Corruption in Crane Inspections
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
Published: June 12, 2008
The authorities have widened their criminal investigation of potential corruption inside the Department of Buildings’ crane inspection operations to focus on several current and former agency employees who had responsibilities in that area, a law enforcement official involved in the inquiry said on Wednesday.
Skip to next paragraph Last week the investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation led to the arrest of the city’s chief crane inspector, James Delayo, who is accused of taking bribes over a period of years.
Authorities are now focusing more broadly on the Buildings Department’s Cranes and Derricks Unit, a small division responsible for licensing and inspecting cranes, the official said.
Investigators will also examine the process by which the Buildings Department issues licenses to the workers who operate tower cranes like the massive machines that collapsed in two fatal accidents in less than three months. The accidents, on March 15 on East 51st Street and May 30 on East 91st Street, killed nine people and are the subject of separate criminal inquires.
In arresting Mr. Delayo, 60, on felony bribe-receiving charges on Friday, investigators accused him of taking thousands of dollars in exchange for allowing cranes to pass inspection and for ensuring that one crane company’s employees would pass a licensing test to operate smaller cranes. He was also accused of selling a copy of the test and its answers to the crane company.
“The investigation that was focused on the crane collapse and the circumstances under which that happened has expanded into the licensing of crane operators as well as the yearly inspections of cranes themselves,” the official said.
Mr. Delayo was the second member of the unit to be arrested in less than three months, leaving just four inspectors assigned to the Cranes and Derricks Unit. In March, another inspector, Edward J. Marquette, was charged with faking a report that said he visited the crane on East 51st Street in response to a complaint a week before it collapsed, although officials said it was highly unlikely that the missed inspection was related to the accident.
The official said that while Mr. Delayo was accused of taking bribes for ensuring that a handful of licenses for small cranes — known as Class C licenses — were issued, “prudence would dictate that you have to look at a broader picture of licensing,” particularly the Class B licenses under which workers operate the larger cranes. The official noted that a recent state report found a range of improprieties in the issuance of crane licenses outside New York City and thus underscored the opportunities for corruption in the licensing process.
Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman for the Buildings Department, said on Wednesday that the agency would have no comment on reports of an expanding review of crane operations.
The accidents and investigations come at a time when the city’s Buildings Department — for decades plagued by mismanagement and a culture of corruption — is again the focus of intense scrutiny. In the face of an unprecedented building boom, and despite measures aimed at modernizing its operations and increasing safety, it is struggling to deal with a rash of construction deaths and inspection lapses.
In April, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg forced out his building commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, who was widely respected in the construction and design industries.
The administration has yet to name her successor, and one official has expressed concern about its difficulties finding a replacement. The agency is being run by an acting commissioner, Robert LiMandri, but he does not have the requisite professional certification as an engineer or architect, although he has an undergraduate degree in engineering.
Despite the slumping economy, the pace of construction in the city has been barely affected. So the workload for the inspectors in the small Cranes and Derricks Unit has continued unabated, despite the widening investigation.
After the March collapse, the Buildings Department assigned eight inspectors from a special rapid response unit within the agency to work with the Cranes and Derricks inspectors and changed the protocol so that two inspectors go on each site visit.
Ms. Lindquist said the department was conducting more inspections because of the added staff in the unit and protocols that required more scrutiny.
Last week, on the day of Mr. Delayo’s arrest, Mr. LiMandri issued a statement saying the agency was overhauling the unit, where he said there was “much work to be done.”
“Our No. 1 priority is to ensure the department’s staff conduct their jobs with the utmost integrity as we continue to forge ahead with our reforms,” he said.
Officials said the investigation remained in an early stage.
“We’ve gotten a handful of tips, based on the recent arrest, and we’re following up on those tips as we would in any case,” said Daniel J. Castleman, the chief assistant in the district attorney’s office. “And we certainly encourage anyone with information to call and tell us what they know, either as an anonymous source or by identifying themselves.”
Manslaughter Charge in Trench Collapse
By MICHAEL WILSON
Published: June 12, 2008
The owner of a Brooklyn construction site where a day laborer died in March when earth and debris collapsed on him was charged with manslaughter on Wednesday. In announcing the indictment, at a time in which construction-related deaths in New York are running far ahead of last year’s pace, the authorities said that more construction-related prosecutions may be ahead.
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Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
William Lattarulo being led into court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. A worker he employed died in March when he was partially buried in a trench.
Indictment Against William Lattarulo (pdf)
The site owner, William Lattarulo, was warned by workers and by a consultant that a trench that had been dug on his East New York site was unstable, prosecutors said. “Essentially, his retort was, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” said Michael F. Vecchione, chief of the Brooklyn district attorney office’s rackets division.
The authorities said that the worker, Lauro Ortega, 30, suffocated when the tumbling dirt and debris rose to his chest, creating pressure so great that he could not breathe, even though his head remained uncovered.
The district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, acknowledged that manslaughter charges in construction cases were hard to prove, requiring that prosecutors show that the defendant could have foreseen the danger and continued anyway.
“I think we might be entering into a new level here,” he said. “If they don’t follow the rules that are very plainly laid out for them, they will face prosecution.”
The Building Department’s acting commissioner, Robert D. LiMandri, who attended a news conference at the district attorney’s office on Wednesday, echoed Mr. Hynes’s sentiments. “Criminal prosecution is possible, and it will happen when it needs to,” Mr. LiMandri said.
The indictment of Mr. Lattarulo arrives amid a troubled moment in New York City’s continuing construction boom. The Department of Buildings is under criticism after the deaths of 15 people in construction-related accidents in the city so far this year, compared with 12 in all of 2007. Nine people, all but one of them construction workers, died in two crane collapses in Manhattan in the last three months. Criminal investigations have been opened in both crane accidents.
Those accidents have directed much public scrutiny and apprehension skyward, toward towers of concrete, steel and glass and the cranes that help them reach their heights. But every day around the city, legions of workers, many of them day laborers, toil on jobs not as attention-grabbing as those done on skyscrapers, but often just as dangerous.
Mr. Hynes said the timing of the charges announced on Wednesday was unrelated to the recent crane accidents.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Lattarulo listed a contractor as overseeing the digging of a foundation for a new coin laundry at a lot he owned at 791 Glenmore Avenue, but the contractor did not do so.
Instead, they said, Mr. Lattarulo supervised the work himself, saving $90,000, though he did not have the experience necessary for the task, and hired $100-a-day laborers like the victim, Mr. Ortega, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador.
On the morning of March 12, Mr. Ortega was digging the foundation in a trench beside a home that Mr. Lattarulo also owned. The laundry’s foundation was to be much deeper than that of the home, requiring the underpinning of the home’s foundation to prevent a collapse.
According to the authorities, Mr. Lattarulo was warned by a consultant, whom the prosecutor said he had been required to hire, that the new foundation was unstable.
Instead of heeding those warnings, the authorities said, Mr. Lattarulo told Mr. Ortega to keep digging. Moments later, part of a wall from the home next door collapsed and sent rubble spilling onto Mr. Ortega, killing him. A second worker was injured.
On the day of the accident, Patricia J. Lancaster, then the buildings commissioner, visited the site and said that there was “evidence of shoddy work conditions” and that the work should not have been going on.
Mr. Lattarulo was immediately cited for at least eight violations, and the project was shut down. He was charged on Wednesday with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
He appeared at his arraignment in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn with his hands cuffed behind his back. He was held on a $25,000 bond.
“He is extremely remorseful,” said his lawyer, Norman Steiner. “He was the first to go down into that hole in what turned out tragically to be a failed rescue attempt."
Mr. Steiner called the prosecution a public relations ploy.
Now, Cringing in the Shadows Cast by Cranes
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: March 17, 2008
New York has always been a city of construction cranes: They are the steel crutches of the skyline, forever pulling it upward. But when one of them collapsed on the East Side on Saturday — killing at least four people, demolishing a building and damaging at least five others — the disaster exposed the often-uneasy relationship cranes have had with the New Yorkers who walk below them.
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Yasmin Namini/The New York Times
A steel collar supporting the crane broke free and crashed onto the two below. More Photos »
How the Crane Fell
The Collapse Sequence
Manhattan Crane Collapse
Officials said that about 250 cranes were now in operation in the five boroughs, a telling sign of the city’s building boom. Construction cranes are towering behemoths, signposts of the city’s prosperity that dominate the skyline for months but often go unnoticed.
Yet on Sunday, those who lived, worked or happened to be walking near the cranes looked upward with anxiety, their nerves rattled by Saturday’s collapse.
A gas station cashier who works below a crane at West 24th Street and 10th Avenue said he trusted God to protect him. A neighbor who lives across the street, Ana Gonçalves, puts her faith in the builders and hopes they know what they are doing. Victor Simpkins, another neighbor, has watched the crane for weeks, but now he looks up at it with a new suspicion.
“If that thing would fall over, my building would be toast,” said Mr. Simpkins, 53, a designer and filmmaker.
On Sunday, city officials released a detailed description of the collapse at 303 East 51st Street, saying that workers were “jumping” the crane — intricately adding sections to raise the crane — when a steel collar used to secure the crane to the building fell. That piece sheared off a lower collar, and the entire structure toppled, the officials said.
The authorities said 24 people were injured, including 11 first responders, and at least three people remained missing: two construction workers and a woman who was inside a four-story town house at 305 East 50th Street that was demolished.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg acknowledged the danger of high-rise construction, but said residents near cranes were generally safe. “Do I think that you should worry if there’s a crane across the street?” the mayor said at a news conference on Sunday. “No. This is such a rare thing that I don’t think we should worry about it.”
But as cranes have proliferated, so, too, have accidents associated with them. Last year, there were eight crane-related “accidents,” up from five in 2006; and 21 crane-related “incidents,” up from 14. As the city’s Department of Buildings defines them, “accidents” involve fatalities or injuries, and “incidents” do not.
The collapse of the 205-foot crane on Saturday — described by city and union officials as one of the worst crane accidents in memory — gave rise to a grim New York City parlor game, one that pedestrians have doubtlessly played in the back of their minds over the years: If that crane fell, where would it hit?
“We thought about it, and we think if it falls, it will probably fall into the park or bounce off that clock tower,” said Jarrod Shandley, 25, who lives with two roommates in a penthouse that looks out onto a crane at East 23rd Street and Madison Avenue.
Boom, jib, cab: cranes have their own New York vernacular. Like New Yorkers, they come in all shapes and sizes, but the ones that dominate in Manhattan are tower cranes, which are used in the construction of tall buildings.
On Sunday, virtually every crane in the city — no matter if it seemed safe or sound — was looked upon with skepticism by many pedestrians and residents. Yet, it was perhaps a testament to the city’s reliance upon cranes that workers at the accident site were using other cranes to stabilize and assess the one that toppled.
At East 23rd Street, the giant white crane affixed to the building under construction was the talk of the neighborhood. Lynn Catanio, 56, and her 28-year-old daughter walked beneath the crane and the blue scaffolding surrounding the building about noon.
Reporting for these articles was contributed by Sushil Cheema, Annie Correal, John Eligon, Ann Farmer, Jason Grant, C. J. Hughes, Daryl Khan, Patrick McGeehan, Colin Moynihan and Nate Schweber.
Now, Cringing in the Shadows Cast by Cranes
Published: March 17, 2008
“We just walked by and said, ‘If it falls, would it take her building out?’ ” said Ms. Catanio, whose daughter, Justine, works in a building across 23rd Street from the crane. They decided she would be safe.
Skip to next paragraph Multimedia
How the Crane Fell
The Collapse Sequence
Manhattan Crane Collapse
Stan Hochman, 83, who walked by the crane with his wife, said it made him nervous. “I don’t know what can be done about it,” he said.
“You could walk across the street,” said his wife, Lee, 79.
“I think a crane like that could still reach you across the street,” he responded.
Some New Yorkers showed no fear of cranes. Mr. Shandley, who lives in the penthouse, said crane anxiety after Saturday’s collapse was “an irrational fear.” Mr. Shandley, who works for a financial research company, added, “I don’t think you should be any more worried about a crane than crossing the street and getting hit by a cab.”
At West 24th Street and 10th Avenue, a crane stretching several stories has been helping to erect a residential building. The unfinished L-shaped building, at 245 10th Avenue, wraps around a corner gas station. Residents said the boom of the crane often swings over the four-pump gas station to pick up materials on 24th Street.
Ms. Gonçalves, 33, who works in a restaurant in the neighborhood, used to live across the street from another crane in the East Village. One day in September 2006, a four-ton chunk of steel rigging from the crane fell 20 stories, crashing into a cab, injuring five people and forcing evacuations. Now she lives in a five-story building opposite the crane at 245 10th Avenue. Saturday’s collapse and her memories of the one in 2006 have made her uneasy.
“It crosses my mind every day,” Ms. Gonçalves said of the stability of the crane. “It’s scary.”
For Chrislorme Paul, the memories of the same 2006 collapse are more vivid — and frightening. He was driving the cab that was crushed. The destroyed yellow cab sits in his brother’s garage in Brooklyn, and sometimes people come to look at it. Mr. Paul, 52, who lives in Canarsie, Brooklyn, with his wife and two children, still drives a cab, and he says a prayer when he drives by the East Village building.
“It was a long day for me yesterday,” Mr. Paul said of the day of the collapse. “Today, I was praying in church. My heart goes out to the families of the victims and those in the hospital.”
On July 21, 1982, Warren F. Levenberg, the controller of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was walking near 53rd Street and Madison Avenue when — without warning — debris rained down. A crane had collapsed on top of an office building, sending pieces of granite, steel and glass 44 stories to the street. Mr. Levenberg was killed, and 16 others were injured. He was 31 years old.
“He was a young man in the prime of his life walking down Madison Avenue,” said Mr. Levenberg’s wife, Susan Warrell, who now uses her maiden name and lives in Austin, Tex. “I get a chill every time I see a crane.”
Safety Starts at the Top
By SUSAN PODZIBA
Published: June 12, 2008
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IT’S still not clear what caused the two recent crane accidents in New York City, which killed nine people. Across the country, dozens die each year in similar accidents: 72 workers in 2006 alone, the most recent year for which federal figures are available. Yet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been sitting on crane-safety regulations that could prevent more deaths.
As I watched the news coverage of the second of the crane accidents last month, I felt sick to my stomach.
In 2003, OSHA hired me to bring together union and industry representatives to update federal crane and derrick regulations. The existing regulations on crane safety were created in 1971 and have not been significantly revised since then. Everyone agreed that the current regulations are archaic and fail to address the daily hazards faced by construction workers.
From July 2003 to July 2004, representatives of labor unions, crane manufacturers, crane operators, contractors, crane rental companies, builders, crane owners, billboard installers, insurance companies, electrical power line owners and safety experts met to discuss virtually all hazards associated with cranes — and how to prevent them. The deliberations were governed under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which meant that the public could attend the sessions and address the representatives.
The group reached consensus on a set of revised crane standards. OSHA officials participated in the negotiations and contributed their expertise in writing enforceable regulations. According to OSHA’s analysis, these standards would prevent 37 to 48 worker deaths per year. The draft regulations are about 120 pages long, and include important new requirements like the testing and certification of crane operators and the oversight of crane assembly and disassembly.
From the first day of deliberations — in accordance with the process, called negotiated rulemaking — the parties operated under this assumption: If this balanced group of stakeholders and the government could agree on a standard, then OSHA would publish it in the Federal Register as its proposed rule. After OSHA publishes a draft rule, the public has 60 days to comment before the final rule is published and becomes law.
Having conducted 15 negotiated rulemakings for five federal agencies, I expected OSHA to publish the rule in 2006. Since the conclusion of the negotiations in 2004, two OSHA administrators have said that the revised crane standard is a priority.
For nearly four years, those of us involved in the negotiations have hoped that the power of an industry-union consensus and plain good sense would prevail, perhaps with some prodding. Just days before the March crane accident in New York, representatives of the group that developed these safety regulations wrote to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and strongly urged her to “ensure this standard and its publication receive the immediate attention it requires.”
Later that month, OSHA said the proposed standard was expected to be published in August. But in May, Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, informed administrative agencies that after June 1 no proposed rules were to be published except under “extraordinary” circumstances. Mr. Bolten also said that no draft rules could be made final after Nov. 1.
This means the nation will not have more protective crane standards for years unless the administrator of OSHA, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., requests, and the White House approves, an “extraordinary” exception for publication of the proposed cranes and derricks standard. When a new president takes office in January, his new appointees in the Labor Department would want to review these standards before taking any action. If they made changes to the draft regulations, the negotiations may have to be reopened.
In a speech to the American Society of Safety Engineers in June 2006, Mr. Foulke told the audience that his appointment to OSHA by President Bush was his destiny. Destiny now calls. Mr. Foulke must request, and if necessary demand, an exception to the June 1 deadline for publishing the proposed cranes and derricks standard and the Nov. 1 deadline for making it final.
Protecting Industry, Not Workers
oPublished: April 29, 2007
To the Editor:
''OSHA Leaves Worker Safety Largely in Hands of Industry'' (front page, April 25) demonstrates how the voluntary compliance approach favored by business interests and put into effect by the Bush administration fails to protect workers' safety and health.
Labor's movement for safety and health rights was inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and culminated in the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. For the first time in American history, workers had the right to resist unsafe working conditions, to have OSHA inspect their workplace and to know if the materials they were working with violated OSHA safety standards.
President Bush's voluntary
compliance approach is a smokescreen for the evisceration of OSHA. It is
tantamount to turning regulatory authority over to business interests, and
workers have little choice but to assume the risk of getting injured, ill or
killed on the job. Voluntary compliance is nothing more than the rollback of
every American's right to safe and healthful working conditions.
Brooklyn, April 25, 2007
The writer is an associate professor of political science at Kingsborough Community College.
To the Editor:
OSHA's mission is to assure, as far as possible, safe and healthful working conditions for every worker. Your article shows that this commitment has been degraded.
OSHA is the primary federal agency for enforcing occupational safety and health standards, yet it devotes a portion of its resources to its Voluntary Protection Programs. While this is not contrary to OSHA's mission, these consultation services are available from private sources like the National Safety Council and insurance companies.
One aspect of OSHA's work
that cannot be performed by the private sector is enforcement. By devoting a
portion of its resources to business consulting, the number of OSHA personnel
available for safety standards enforcement is reduced.
Moorestown, N.J., April 25, 2007
The writer is a safety engineer who provides OSHA training classes in colleges and to businesses.
To the Editor:
OSHA's defense of its inaction on behalf of American workers only confirms its insensitivity to the families of the people it is supposed to ''protect.''
In modern times, when pro-business administrations occupy the White House, they defang the regulatory bureaucracy by wiping out agencies, appointing heads of agencies in bed with the industries under their authority, cutting their staffs as well as budgets and conducting studies to delay taking action.
In the mid-1980s, when I
was the mayor of University Park, a suburb of Chicago, I once asked the
president of our industrial park's largest corporation about the truth of claims
that American industries were subjected to excessive governmental regulation. He
responded: ''Well, it is not all that bad. When the Democrats are in office we
can work it out with them, and when the Republicans are in office, no one comes
Earl P. Bell
Olympia Fields, Ill., April 25, 2007
To the Editor:
Instead of low-wage factory workers getting seriously ill at microwave popcorn plants from exposure to the food-flavoring agent diacetyl, let's imagine a different scenario: business executives getting sick from exposure to some chemical related to golf or computers or cellphones. Three or four incidents and the response would be swift.
OSHA's inaction and its
claim that ''the science is murky'' about the connection between diacetyl and
lung disease is another shameful example of this administration's arrogant
dismissal of the health and safety of those without power.
Claudia MonPere McIsaac
Oakland, Calif., April 25, 2007
To the Editor:
Industry influence on OSHA standards did not start in the Bush administration. Since its inception in 1970, industry has fought to weaken OSHA. The standards originally adopted by OSHA were heavily influenced by industry lobbyists.
These original standards have not been substantially updated over the last 37 years to reflect newer scientific understanding of toxic effects. Worse, for 37 years OSHA has consistently ignored recommendations by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to issue new standards or revise existing ones.
Consequently, millions of
working people have been and are currently exposed to levels of toxic substances
that are known to cause illnesses like cancer, reproductive problems and other
often devastating health conditions.
New York, April 26, 3007
The writer is executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.
Terrible Rumble, and Then Chaos as Crane Fell
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: March 16, 2008
At first it was just a noise, a rumble and a roar that brought terrified residents to their windows and stopped pedestrians cold. A massive white construction crane swayed for a few breathless moments in the mid-March breeze, and then toppled.
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The New York Times…………….
“I looked out the window and I saw the crane coming,” said Ethel Rompilla, 69, an instructor at the New York School of Interior Design who had been relaxing in her apartment on the sixth floor of 311 East 50th Street, lying on her new couch, listening to opera. “I saw bricks flying toward me, and I thought they were going to come right through my window.”
In the same building, Maryann Krajacic, 54, fainted after watching the crane fly by and smash into a nearby building, and seeing two workers dangling from a pole high atop the unfinished building where the crane had been.
Later, when a police officer escorted her out, he told her not to look at the building that had been demolished, but she did anyway, and she started to weep.
Christy Sheedy, an 83-year-old retired steelworker drinking a beer in a bar on Second Avenue, heard a strange clanging sound, and stepped outside into another world. “The dust was everywhere,” he said. “You couldn’t see anything. It was like looking into a thick, reddish fog.”
There were construction workers dead, and firefighters searching through rubble, and police officers screaming at pedestrians: “Leave the block! Leave the block! Go away. There’s gas.”
Meredith Berkowicz had thought a truck was rolling by.
An independent court reporter, Mrs. Berkowicz was sitting at her computer in her apartment at the corner of East 51st Street and Second Avenue shortly before 2:30 p.m. Saturday, spending a sunny afternoon with her court transcripts. She went to the window. From her 13th-floor perch, she saw dust rising and people screaming as they ran across Second Avenue, and then the building shook.
“We’re being bombed,” she recalled thinking. “That’s all I thought it was.”
It was something far less deadly than a terrorist attack, yet no less frightening for those who lived through it. The giant crane toppled from a building under construction at 303 East 51st Street. Parts of it crashed into several residential buildings, flattened a town house with a bar on the ground floor, and turned a bustling, upscale neighborhood on the East Side into a scene of chaos, dust and panic. At least four people were killed, and more than a dozen others were injured, the authorities said.
The toll of dead and injured, the scene of destruction and the frantic search for possible victims in the rubble made for a harrowing day for hundreds of firefighters and police officers, and for those unlucky enough to have experienced the accident but lucky enough to have survived it.
Ms. Krajacic, after recovering from her fainting spell, was stunned when she stepped outside and saw what was left of the flattened town house at 305 East 50th Street, which had housed a bar called Fubar on the ground floor. “The top of the crane went right through the building, and it sliced it in half,” Ms. Krajacic said.
Witnesses first described the collapse as a series of far-off, nearly indescribable noises. They said it sounded like an earthquake, an explosion or, as Jerry Silverman, a 56-year-old retiree standing at the construction site when the crane buckled, described it, a roar “like hundreds of lions.”
Mr. Silverman and his wife live a block from the construction site. They had been bothered by the noise from the work throughout Saturday morning, and they had called 311 to complain. About 2 p.m., they walked to the site to find out whether the workers had a permit to do work on the weekends.
Then they heard a roar and noticed the crane and its cab swinging precariously. “Moments later, it crashed into the building across the street, sending smoke and debris up,” Mr. Silverman said.
The first building the crane hit was Mrs. Berkowicz’s building at 300 East 51st Street, a 19-story red brick structure, witnesses said. Mrs. Berkowicz called her husband, Adam, in a panic on her cellphone as her building shook.
Skip to next paragraph “I couldn’t understand her,” said Mr. Berkowicz, a 32-year-old accountant. “She was screaming. I said, ‘Get your keys, get your jacket and walk out.’ ” She did just that, heading out into the street, escaping the building uninjured.
Dawn Straiton, who lives on East 51st Street, was walking north on Second Avenue near her street when she heard screams. She looked up and saw the crane tipping. She grabbed an old man with a cane who stood next to her, and they went into a Laundromat for safety.
Later in the evening she returned, hoping to get inside her apartment, and was joined by scores of onlookers and other residents wondering when they would be allowed to return to their buildings. “Yeah, I want to go home,” she said.
As for Ms. Rompilla, debris did not come crashing through her window, as she feared it would, and she escaped, unharmed, with her neighbors. On these narrow blocks of Manhattan on Saturday, it was a day of narrow misses.
Fubar, the bar that was destroyed by the crane, was not open at the time. It opens at 4 p.m., and the owner, John P. LaGreco, said he had been on his way there early Saturday afternoon but had gotten wrapped up in the Yankees preseason game.
Jorge Posada had just driven in a run, the Yankees were down 2-1 in the fourth inning and the bases were loaded. He stayed in his apartment, blocks from the bar, to see what would happen. Then a neighbor, a bartender at Fubar, knocked on his door and told him what had happened. Mr. LaGreco’s heart raced. “If I wasn’t watching the game,” he said, “I would’ve been killed.”
Fubar had been planning to observe its 10th anniversary in December, and Mr. LaGreco had just bought about $10,000 of beer for St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
His bar was nothing much, he said, proudly describing it as a dive with free popcorn, a pool table and arcade games, but it was his.
“My life is in there,” he said. He still talked about it in the present tense.
June 4, 2008, 4:57 pm
Bloomberg Unveils Building Safety Proposals
By Sewell Chan
Updated, June 5 | Reacting to the fatal crane collapse last Friday that has raised new concerns about construction safety and threatened to tarnish his legacy, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Wednesday afternoon what he called a sweeping package of legislation to improve safety for workers and residents at big construction sites. The legislation would:
· Make it mandatory for all general contractors and concrete and demolition subcontractors to obtain a safety control number through the Buildings Department before conducting any work that requires a permit.
· Require that contractors with unacceptable safety records have their safety control numbers suspended or revoked.
· Require contractors who have been warned of an “immediately hazardous violation” to report compliance within 24 hours or describe steps to correct the violation within a specific time period.
· Give the Buildings Department new enforcement powers to assign a project safety monitor at sites with a history of particularly hazardous violations.
· Classify poor site maintenance — loose and excess material and debris, inadequate safety netting, and tripping hazards — as “immediately hazardous,” which would improve housekeeping at construction sites.
· Require licensed site safety managers to oversee concrete operations.
· Increase training and other safety requirements governing crane operations in New York City.
A bevy of officials joined the mayor and Robert D. LiMandri, acting commissioner of the Department of Buildings, for the announcement or provided statements of support. This included Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Councilman Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn and Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin of Manhattan. Also supporting the new measures were: Edward J. Malloy, president of the New York State/City Construction Trades Councils; Gary La Barbera, president of the New York City Central Labor Council; Steven M. Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York; Lou Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association; and Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress.
In addition to the major changes listed above, the legislation would:
· Require a safety meeting before erecting, jumping (lengthening) or dismantling of a crane.
· Require more training for workers doing rigging operations.
· Restrict the use of nylon slings.
· Require owners of vacant and structurally fragile buildings to report unsafe conditions.
· Require owners to perform periodic inspections of retaining walls.
· Require the state to be notified of disciplinary action against licensed architects and engineers.
· Require the Buildings Department to provide an annual report on injuries and fatalities.
· Change the qualifications in city law to require that either the buildings commissioner or the first deputy commissioner be a registered architect or licensed engineer.
Reaction to the legislative proposals has so far been mixed. Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, who has been a persistent critic of the Buildings Department, praised the legislative proposals but continued to hammer away at the department in a statement on Wednesday:
I want to commend the Mayor, the City Council and the Department of Buildings for working with the industry and labor to respond to the public safety crisis that construction accidents have created in this city. However, today we are asking the Buildings Department to take on sweeping reform and I do not believe this agency as presently constituted has the capacity or resources required to get this done.
We need a comprehensive plan for the implementation of these ideas. We need money for this plan this fiscal year. We need to know when it’s going to happen, who is doing the work, how is it going to get done and we need to get it done now. We are piling all of this onto one agency. We must involve multiple agencies or I fear we will not be able to accomplish these goals.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday:
I agree with the Mayor that we must make safety the top priority at construction sites. We’ve had two deadly crane accidents in my district in the last few months. I think we have nothing to lose by asking OSHA to inspect cranes in our city and everything to gain if they can spot potential problems before disaster strikes.
That said, the federal government can and should be doing more to address this problem. Current federal regulations on crane safety were written in 1971 and are now obsolete. Unbelievably, the Bush administration has been sitting on updated regulations for four years, a delay that is unacceptable and has proved deadly. It’s time for the administration to get moving before anyone else gets hurt and that is what I will be working to make happen in the days to come.
David W. Chen contributed reporting.
March 15, 2008
The Collapse Sequence
On Saturday, a tower crane attached to a building under construction collapsed, damaging several buildings and destroying a town house. At least four people were killed and about a dozen were injured.
March 18, 2008
NYC Office of Emergency Management Coordinating Response to Crane Collapse
By Sandy Smith
The around-the-clock effort continues to clean up debris left from the collapse of a crane on March 15 on Manhattan's East Side that killed six construction workers and one visitor, left 24 injured and damaged approximately 20 buildings.
A tower crane installed at a construction site fell southward onto a property across the street at 300 East 51st Street, a 19-story residential building. The fall caused a portion of tower crane's mast, approximately 75 feet in length, to break and fall onto 305 East 50th Street, a four-story residential building with a restaurant/bar on the street level, triggering a collapse of the building.
A preliminary investigation indicates the accident occurred while workers were adding tower sections to extend the crane upwards, an operation known as "jumping" the crane. While crews were jumping the crane to the 18th floor, a heavy-duty steel collar, which wrapped around the mast of the crane and used to tie the crane to the side of the building, fell as workers attempted to install it. When the steel collar fell, it damaged a lower steel collar, installed at the 9th floor. The collar installed at the 9th floor served as a major anchor securing the tower crane to the building under construction. With the elimination of the support provided by the steel collar at the 9th floor, the counter-weights at the top of the crane's tower caused the entire structure to fall southward.
building under construction at 305 East 51st Street is part of the
Department's High Rise Site Safety Program and was inspected proactively at
least once a week by buildings inspectors. Inspectors with the Buildings
Department's Buildings Enforcement Safety Team (BEST) Squad recently
performed an inspection of the site.
Upon inspection, a partial Stop Work Order was issued to halt all work associated with concrete operations at the site. This partial Stop Work Order did not apply to crane operations underway at the time of the accident. The partial Stop Work Order was issued because inspectors found material stored too close to the building's edge on several floors, and because the general contractor, RCG Group, failed to provide the approved drawings at the time of inspection.
Owned by New York Crane and manufactured by the Favelle Favco Group, the tower crane was inspected approximately five times over the course of its operation history at 305 East 51st Street. The permit for the crane was issued Jan. 17 to JCI. The most recent inspection of the crane occurred on March 14, the day before the collapse.
On that day, inspectors with the Buildings Department's Cranes & Derricks Unit inspected the mast sections to be used to jump the crane. No violations were issued as a result of that inspection. Prior to Friday's inspection, the crane was inspected on March 4, when Buildings inspectors scrutinized the crane in response to a complaint and found it to be erected according to the approved crane notice (the crane permit).
The New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), along with the Department of Buildings (DOB), Fire Department (FDNY), Police Department (NYPD), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU), American Red Cross in Greater New York, the Salvation Army and ConEdison are all operating on scene. Since the collapse, agencies have been working around the clock to search for victims, remove debris and dismantle the damaged crane.
Remedial operations to secure the site continue in two primary locations. At 305 East 50th Street, DOB forensic engineers, crane experts and inspectors continue to supervise the removal of the section of the crane’s mast that landed on top of the four-story building at 305 East 50th Street. As of early Monday, seven of the 10 pieces of the mast have been removed.
At 300 East 51st Street, the other work site, two mobile cranes, positioned at East 51st Street and 2nd Avenue, have lowered the crane’s boom to the street level. Once the crane’s boom was lowered, workers began dissembling into parts. This work was allowed to proceed after the bolts on the crane’s mast were thoroughly analyzed by engineers and found to be intact. Operations will continue as the crane’s mast is removed from the site and the debris pile is stabilized Some of these parts will be secured by the NYPD and sent to a testing laboratory for analysis as part of DOB’s forensic investigation.
DOB has issued vacate orders for nearly 300 residential units in 17 buildings. All of the buildings remain vacated at this time. DOB will lift the vacate orders as soon as it is safe to do so. The Buildings Department will be able to better assess when tenants can safely return to their homes once more sections of crane and debris have been removed from site. Debris removal on the sidewalk in front of 305 East 50th Street has begun.
OEM, CAU and the American Red Cross in Greater New York set up a Family Assistance Center immediately after the collapse. Evacuated residents can visit the center to register with the Red Cross, receive temporary shelter and speak with DOB personnel. The center is located in Saint Peter’s Church at 619 Lexington Avenue. Hours of operation are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. To date, 113 residents have been seen at the center.
OEM and CAU worked with the NYPD, FDNY and Red Cross to rescue several pets from vacated apartments on Sunday. When residents registered at the Family Assistance Center, a list was compiled of trapped pets. As soon as the safety of emergency personnel could be assured, rescues were made.
Gas, electric, and water service has been interrupted to several properties because of the collapse. Service restoration remains a priority and will be done as soon as utility crews are allowed safe access to the collapse area.
April 16, 2008
The High Cost of Workplace Tragedies: Leading Employees Through Crisis
By Bob VandePol
It can happen here. The recent crane accidents have emphasized this sad truth.
Every day, construction workers leave home unaware that their next shift will include a co-worker‘s death or serious injury. While they may be grateful for their own physical safety, the psychological outcomes of such events can be difficult for them and their workgroups. Tragedy also is expensive, and construction companies face a long list of potential financial costs as well. Quality, safety and the ability to meet crucial deadlines are in jeopardy when a tragedy occurs.
Trust in leadership and a desirable corporate culture also are at risk. In retrospect, construction leaders often will pinpoint a workplace tragedy as a pivotal point for the ongoing productivity of their work teams. Some identify how the incident actually launched a new sense of loyalty, team cohesion and commitment to safe work practices. Others bemoan the event as triggering a collective negative image, increased conflict and distrust of leadership: “That’s when the wheels fell off.”
Managers need to respond immediately and effectively because how they handle the first hours after a tragedy offers both tremendous opportunity and serious risks. The incident and its aftermath will not go away if ignored. Work groups will go through a reactive process – with leadership or without it. Lead it!
Your employees are watching you as they make decisions about their own reactions. Construction leaders must be prepared to present that rare combination of compassion and competence – not mutually exclusive terms. Individually and organizationally, recovery is facilitated when the leader can acknowledge the personal impact upon involved people while at the same time transitioning them to next steps. Those watching must witness a confident, competent person who doesn’t minimize the effect of the incident but communicates an expectation of recovery.
Typically, the company’s safety, human resource or risk management department makes an immediate referral to a critical incident response organization. It already will have in place protocols by which the referrals are received, responses are managed logistically and specialists are dispatched to meet with impacted employees on-site.
Using group and individual meetings, the specialist provides a safe, directed environment to 1) position the company’s leadership favorably, 2) let people talk if they wish to do so, 3) identify “normal reactions to an abnormal event” so that people don’t panic regarding their own reactions, 4) build group support, 5) outline self-help recovery strategies, 6) brain-storm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-work and return-to-life obstacles, and 7) triage movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care. The specialist also engages in immediate assessment for anyone presenting risk for suicide or violence. Following intervention completion, the specialist provides the company’s management with recommendations for next steps.
When construction leaders manage the risk of a traumatic event via this process, they speed individual and organizational recovery and gain greater likelihood employees will positively view their involvement. Tragedy needn’t lead to additional tragedy.
Bob VandePol is president of Crisis Care Network (http://www.crisiscare.com). He can be reached at (888) 736-0911, ext. 839.
March 27, 2008
Crane Training Vital for Safety, ASSE Member Says
By Katherine Torres
Coinciding with the recent fatal crane incidents in New York City and Miami, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) member and certified crane operator trainer Greg Peters noted that to avoid fatalities and injuries involving cranes and derricks, crane operators must receive comprehensive training and should be required to obtain national certification.
“A national crane operator certification requirement will certainly lead to safer crane operations,” Peters said in a Web article for the March issue of Professional Safety, titled "Raising the Standard for Crane Safety."
According to U.S. statistics, between 64 and 82 construction workers are killed and 263 are injured each year when working around cranes and derricks. Peters pointed out that crane operators – who hoist thousands of pounds of equipment hundreds of feet in the air – should be required to hold a recognized certification to ensure safety.
"In 2004, the Crane and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee (C-DAC) completed its draft proposal for a revised crane and derrick standard for construction. The draft was then submitted to OSHA," Peters wrote. "The draft standard would create a crane operator certification requirement at the federal level. To date, 14 states have enacted legislation to require operator certification, but federal OSHA regulations contain no such provision.”
The existing OSHA rule for cranes and derricks in construction, Peters added, primarily is based on industry consensus standards published in the late 1960s.
According to ASSE member Van. A. Howell, crane accidents commonly are the result of failure to maintain the crane in a safe position; properly inspect the crane; properly calculate the load; rig the load properly; and manually compute the load as a check-and-control- measure against the crane computer.
Peters acknowledged that in some circumstances, complacency, pressure to get the job done or using the wrong equipment can be blamed for accidents involving cranes. But he pointed out that most crane and derrick accidents are preventable and result from a lack of training.
It is important, however, to distinguish between training and certification. “Certification is not what makes an operator safe. What makes an operator safe is the training received before achieving the certification,” he asserted. “[B]ased on my experience, the crane operator certification requirement is much needed.”
The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) offers crane operator certification that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. To pass this certification process, all mobile crane operators must take a core exam featuring 90 questions. Some operators may be required to pass a specialty exam, depending on the type of crane they use. Candidates also must demonstrate proficiency operating cranes by taking a practical exam.
Operators have up to 12 months to complete both exams, which can be taken in any order. The certification is effective for 5 years, as long as operators maintain medical compliance.
Requiring operators to become certified yields benefits beyond improved skills and knowledge, Peters pointed out. In some cases, for example, a firm might qualify for general liability insurance premium discounts for having certified operators.
Most importantly, training and certification can make construction sites safer. After all, Peters said, if operators do not understand or perform procedures correctly, the result can be catastrophic.
March 21, 2008
Buildings Inspector Arrested for Falsifying Crane Inspection
By Laura Walter
The City of New York Department of Investigation (DOI) announced the arrest of a Department of Buildings (DOB) inspector for allegedly lying about making a March 4 inspection of the crane that later collapsed on the city’s east side, killing six construction workers and one visitor.
The investigation following the March 15 collapse revealed the inspector, Edward J. Marquette, allegedly made a false entry in his Inspector's Route Sheet, claiming that he inspected the East 51st Street crane and found not problems. According to DOI, Marquette admitted during questioning that he did not complete the inspection.
“Crane inspectors are entrusted by the City with ensuring that cranes are operated in a way that does not compromise the safety of construction workers or the public,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. “This inspector allegedly betrayed that trust at the most fundamental level by not doing an inspection assigned to him and then making a false record indicating that he did.”
Officials stressed, however, that a proper inspection by Marquette probably would not have prevented the crane collapse.
“Based on the preliminary findings of the ongoing investigation, it is unlikely that a March 4th inspection would have prevented this horrific accident, which we continue to believe was caused by human or mechanical error during the crane jumping operation on March 15,” said DOB Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster.
Lancaster said that Marquette was suspended March 20 and indicated she will support “the most aggressive prosecution possible.”
In light of these allegations against Marquette, Lancaster ordered an immediate re-inspection of all the cranes he inspected during the last 6 months. She also requested that DOI investigate Marquette’s inspection reports from that same time period.
Lancaster also initiated the following actions:
“The Buildings Department will not tolerate misconduct of any kind,” Lancaster said. “Employees found to have acted inappropriately will be disciplined to the full extent of the law.”
March 26, 2008
Miami Crane Collapse Kills 2, Injures 5
By Laura Walter
A 20-foot section of a crane fell 30 stories in Miami on March 25, killing two construction workers and injuring five others.
The crane collapsed at the construction site of a 46-story condominium and crashed through the roof of a nearby home, which was used as an office and storage area for the project. According to media reports, several workers inside the home were caught under the rubble or the crane’s arm. One worker died on site, and the other died after being taken to a hospital.
The fatal incident comes only 10 days after the New York City crane collapse, which killed seven people. In that collapse, a steel collar fell and damaged another collar – a major anchor point – to detach the crane and cause it to fall.
Dan Sielicki, risk manager for Baker Construction, the project’s subcontractor, told OccupationalHazards.com that the collapse occurred while workers were “jumping” the crane, or adding sections to extend it. “At this point, the only thing we know is that the section being added to the crane for some reason became unstable and fell,” he said.
According to Sielicki, windy conditions prohibited the first jump, which was scheduled for March 21. In the afternoon of March 25, he said, “the winds subsided, and Morrow [Equipment Co.] decided the conditions were adequate for them to jump the crane.” It was during this process that the crane collapsed.
“It’s a tragic event and our heart goes out to the people who were killed and injured in the accident,” Sielicki said. “At this time, we’re conducting an investigation and cooperating with various officials to determine the cause of the incident.”
“The site is swarming with activity,” he added. “It’s going to take at least several days to determine [the cause].”
Sielicki said that while one worker did incur a “piercing wound by some of the debris in the house,” none of the injured are in critical condition.
“Everybody is doing well and expected to recover,” he said.
In response to the incident, Mary Costello, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Bovis Lend Lease, the project’s general contractor, said in a statement: “Right now, it appears that a section of crane being raised by Morrow Equipment, a subcontractor to Baker Concrete, became disengaged during a lift and fell onto a house being used as a field office for our construction workers.”
“Our hearts are heavy at this moment for the two deceased individuals, including one of our own employees, and the injured workers,” the statement read.
Morrow Equipment Co., which owns the crane, could not be reached for comment.