NYC Crane Collapse Throws Spotlight on Safety

The crane collapse that killed one worker and injured two others this morning on Manhattan’s Upper East Side again throws a spotlight on construction safety issues.

Today’s fatal accident occurred at a residential tower under construction on East 91st Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side district. As it fell, the crane severely damaged a residential building across the street.

At a hastily called press conference broadcast by local radio station WINS and other outlets, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (pictured) said, “We don’t know why it snapped off, but we will certainly do an investigation.”

The mayor, who was surrounded by a phalanx of state and local officials including Gov. David Paterson, added, “We will release later today all of the records of any complaints about the building and any stop-work orders. This crane was stepped over the weekend. They were fully in compliance with building regulations. They did have on-site a building inspector and it was done properly. The sweep that we did of all the cranes in the city after the last crane collapse, on the East Side in the 50s, did not include this crane because this crane hadn’t been erected at that time. But the first examination of the records indicates that this crane was inspected and was installed and stepped in compliance with regulations.”

Bloomberg called the incident “unacceptable and intolerable.” New York City’s status as the nation’s largest real estate market will likely bring increased scrutiny to safety from regulators, the construction industry and the media.

Today’s incident comes just two months after a crane collapse that killed seven construction workers at a condominium construction project at 51st Street and Second Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. That incident led to the resignation last month of Patricia Lancaster, the city’s buildings commissioner, and the indictment of a city inspector on charges of falsifying records.

While not speculating on possible causes of today’s mishap, Kevin Tartaglione, senior vice president & chief operating officer for Bedminster, N.J.-based developer Advance Realty Group, told CPN this afternoon that today’s development market can create conditions that he termed “a recipe for disaster.”

Contractors, developers and owners are all hard-pressed to maintain safety standards at a time when they find themselves increasingly squeezed to deliver projects quickly and on budget in a highly competitive market, he explained. In particular, lengthy approval processes and the need to secure financing often delay construction starts, shortening the time before the deadline for completion, he explained. And belt-tightening can prompt contractors to reduce the number of workers on a job site. Compressed schedules, smaller margins and financial pressures can cause the project team to collectively take its eye off the ball: “Usually the thing that falls by the wayside is safety,” Tartiglione said.

On a national basis, statistics suggest that construction safety problems are inching up in number and seriousness. As reported by ABC News in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that construction-related fatalities edged up from 1,131 in 2003 to 1,226 in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available.