OLYMPIA — After a fatal crane collapse last April that Washington officials deemed “totally avoidable,” state lawmakers are pushing for more regulations and bigger fines around the disassembly of tower cranes.
The collapse in Seattle left four people dead, and was the result of workers violating safety procedures by removing pins from the crane prematurely, according to an investigation by the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Senate Bill 6171’s sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, said before a public hearing Monday that she fears these kinds of violations are “becoming industry practice.”
Keiser’s bill would require a representative from L&I, which enforces workplace safety procedures, to be present at every tower crane disassembly in the state, according to a legislative analysis. Companies disassembling a tower crane would have to give the state 48 hours’ notice, and pay a fee of up to $1,000.
Keiser said that money would be deposited into the state’s Industrial Insurance program and used to compensate workers injured in crane accidents. An additional fee of $50,000 would be imposed if a violation resulted in a fatality.
Those who testified in support of the new regulations included Chris McClain, manager of US Ironworkers Local 86 union in Seattle.
“What we support specifically are any laws or policies that improve the safety on all projects in order for us to send people home safely,” McClain said. Two of the four people who died in last year’s crane collapse were ironworkers on-site, while the other two victims were driving nearby.
While Seattle has topped the national list of crane-populated cities in recent years, there are only seven crane inspectors in the state, two of whom are assigned to King County, according to L&I representative Tammy Fellin. Fellin explained that the positions require advanced training and are highly sought after.
While the bill says any newly hired inspection personnel must be assigned to the county with the most demand, it doesn’t directly address the state’s lack of inspectors.
Chris Smith, a manager at Morrow Equipment — which after the collapse was fined $70,000 by L&I for a “willful” violation — cited that fact in his opposition to the bill.
“Is the department [going] to hire from the industry and take away some of the best trained professionals that we put a lot of effort into and train for years and years?” he asked.
Thom Sicklesteel of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, said the new regulations, including the 48-hour notice, could pose new safety concerns. That’s because situations arise when compromised cranes need to be dismantled immediately, according to Sicklesteel, who is the organization’s chief executive officer.
Sicklesteel said he testified in favor of legislation in 2007 that added new safety regulations to the construction industry following a fatal crane collapse in Bellevue. However, he says new regulations need to come from those who are more familiar with the industry than lawmakers.
SB 6171 has not yet been scheduled for a committee vote.