The investigation into April’s deadly crane collapse clearly shows Washington needs tougher laws to ensure safety in the ongoing construction boom.
The collapse killed two ironworkers and two passersby. The findings suggest that crane operators receive too much leeway to place speed ahead of safety. Investigators found more than 50 safety pins had been pulled out of the 278-foot tower crane while it was still standing so disassembly could happen more quickly, even though state construction code requires adherence to safety during disassembly. This reprehensible corner-cutting must be stopped.
The reason is self-evident: The crane’s pins keep the 20-foot steel sections of the tower joined and upright. If they are removed ahead of dismantling, the structure is at risk of falling, threatening workers and passersby alike, particularly during windy weather — such as that day’s gusting winds.
As this case highlights, not all construction companies can be relied on to police themselves during this crucial step.
Though crane regulations are part of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and state construction code, expediency in this case tragically trumped common-sense safety.
The state Department of Labor and Industry needs better rules to ensure sites are run by the book. The agency has the power to stop work at an unsafe site, but no permanent rule requires notification when the higher-risk assembly and disassembly of cranes is underway. A regulator could ask questions about the process, and even gauge wind speeds, as a check on on-site decisions.
State regulators should consider requiring mandatory notification to set up or disassemble a crane, particularly in a crowded urban area. With dozens of tower cranes in operation around Puget Sound, there is too much risk if a site operator hurries through a process.
Fines and lawsuits after a tragedy are not enough. The state should assert stronger oversight over this risky step to prevent future disasters and save lives.