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Heavy Equipment AccidentThe modern conveniences and structures we’re so familiar with wouldn’t exist without heavy equipment and construction workers.

Those outside the industry go about their daily lives at home and in the workplace without giving much thought to the planning, sweat and time it took to build the structures around them.

Within the industry, construction professionals and equipment operators are also prone to take heavy equipment for granted, in this case because of their familiarity with it. It’s easy to forget how much power you have at your fingertips as you sit in that CAT D9, to not think about the force that could be wielded by the steel beam you’re supporting with your crane.

The very definition of an accident is an incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. Though accidents may be unexpected, they can be avoided with planning, training and respect for the power of your heavy equipment.

Here are a few unfortunate heavy equipment accidents that have appeared in recent news, as well as thoughts on their causes and possible measures that could have been taken to avoid them.

Crane Basket Fall Fatalities

Empty Crane BasketThe Sacramento Bee reported that two workers died on May 30, 2014 at a bridge construction site, when their crane gondola broke free and they dropped 80 feet. Though the official OSHA investigation can take up to six months, a troubling fact has come to light since the accident: the crane’s annual certification had expired, and therefore the crane should not have been in use.

If the crane had been inspected on schedule, would a problem have been identified? Cal-OSHA is seeking an answer to that question. The Sacramento Bee wrote in late June that regulators are also asking these questions:

  • Was a safety procedure in place?
  • If a safety produce was in place, was it followed?
  • What were the employees doing when their basket fell?

It seems clear that Disney Construction, who was responsible for the workers and their equipment, was at fault for operating the crane without certification. However, we don’t yet know whether the accident was caused by an equipment failure that would have been identified during the certification process, or whether other factors were at play.

San Diego Freeway Falling Beam Injuries

Freeway ConstructionTwo workers were injured on June 18, 2014 when three 60,000 lb steel beams fell at a construction site on the San Diego (405) Freeway. Each beam was 130 feet long.

The accident started when a crane lifting one beam hit two other beams that were already in place, causing a domino effect. The beams fell 25 feet to the freeway below.

A 54 year old worker was standing on one beam, working with the crane operator to direct the new beam’s placement. When the crane struck, the worker fell 25 feet with the beams, sustaining serious injuries from the fall. A second worker, age 46, was struck by a beam multiple times in the upper torso, suffering moderate abdominal and chest injuries.

This accident was obviously the result of operator error. Was the operator fatigued at 3 AM – the time of the accident, or was he distracted? Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego safety committee member, Bob Harrell, told the San Diego Daily Transcript that distracted driving can put individuals and their employers at a major risk of accidents, and that may have been at play here.

In the same article, ABC San Diego emphasized that continuous training must be emphasized to avoid workplace accidents. “It is an approach, not a one-time solution.”

Amazon Factory Fatality

Amazon Warehouse

Amazon, which has dozens of fulfillment centers around the country, is currently under investigation by OSHA for two worker deaths that occurred in December 2013 and June 2014. In the most recent incident in Carlisle, PA, 52 year old Jody Rhoads crashed into a stocked shelving unit while operating a motorized pallet jack.

There has been no public announcement about whether Rhoads lost control or whether the machine malfunctioned. OSHA has fined the staffing agency responsible for hiring Rhoads, but it’s unclear what changes will be made to avoid similar accidents in the future.

In a June 12, 2014 press release, OSHA announced that staffing agencies are responsible for ensuring safety conditions for their employees. From the press release:

“Temporary staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of temporary employees. These employers must assess the work site to ensure that workers are adequately protected from potential hazards,” said Patricia Jones, director of OSHA’s Avenel Area Office. “It is essential that employers protect all workers from job hazards — both temporary and permanent workers.”

Insufficient training may be a factor in this accident as well.


Photos via Flickr CC by Jayme Frye, Lee Haywood, Luke Jones and evadedave.