After a tragedy, crane inspections come under fire


A crane at Site J for the 7 line extension, shown above, collapsed in a fatal accident earlier this week. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

I was unexpectedly out of town earlier this week when news broke of a tragedy at the site of the 7 line extension. On Tuesday night, shortly before 7:30 p.m., a crane collapsed in Site J of the 7 line extension, killing one worker and injuring another. The Manitowoc 4100, located on the east side of 11th Ave. between 33rd and 34th Streets, snapped, and Michael Simmermeyer, a 30-year-old who worked the site with his father, passed away.

“The entire MTA family would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the family of the worker who lost his life as a result of this tragic accident,” the authority said in a statement. “We at the MTA grieve for this loss and vow to do everything we can to ensure that everyone working on projects to better the lives of all New Yorkers can do so as safely as possible.”

In the aftermath of the accident, MTA officials ordered a full stoppage of work at the site, and Michael Horodniceanu of MTA Capital Construction, ordered all MTA cranes inspected. The NYC DOB was called in, and OSHA, the NYPD and the Manhattan DA were looking into the matter as well. The City Council too voiced its concern.

Christine Quinn, currently the presumptive frontrunner in the 2013 race for mayor, raised her voice in concern. She has repeated over the last few years the point that as a state agency, the MTA may invite city inspectors into their sites but is under no legal duty to do so. She also posted a similar message to her Facebook page. As news outlets noted that the crane was due up for inspection this week, Quinn called upon the MTA to allow for oversight closer to home.

“We need the MTA and other state agencies to give the city oversight and authority at these construction sites,” said Quinn. “In fact, the MTA should follow the lead of the Port Authority, that has enters into a memorandum of understanding with the city around crane safety issues.”

The MTA acknowledged the City Council Speaker’s concerns but seemed defensive in doing so. It highlighted two previous inspections that found no deficiencies with its equipment. “The MTA shares City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s concern for the safety of MTA construction sites,” the authority said in a statement. “As a state public authority, the MTA already is subject to state building codes. The MTA is examining the Speaker’s proposal to put all MTA construction activity under the inspection authority of the New York City Department of Buildings.”

Still, other City Council members voiced similar views. Jessica Lappin who represents the area surrounding the Second Ave. Subway construction and has fought for crane safety, echoed Quinn. “I do think the MTA should stop pointing fingers and should follow the rules that we have already set out,” she said to WNYC. The MTA downplayed a jurisdictional tussle with the City Council, but it’s clear the city wants a greater say in the matter.

Work on the site, meanwhile, will resume on Monday after a pause of nearly a week, and the construction crews will return with a heavy heart as they mourn one of their own, taken at far too young an age.

Categories : 7 Line Extension

12 Responses to “After a tragedy, crane inspections come under fire”

  1. UESider says:

    this is really tragic news. it’s hard to believe this city cant manage the safety of cranes. it’s even more disheartening to hear that government bureaucracy and rules could have interfered with safety.

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    When I complain about the fact that public construction costs so much, one response is that the higher costs are due to greater worker safety. And yet we’ve had two workers killed this year.

    There was also another working killed in a crane collapse in Staten Island a decade ago, as a result of overloading a crane.

    • pete says:

      How many died from getting hot by a car/car accident/mugging/etc? Im sure more people have died on SAS from “heart conditions” than from crane collapses.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Driving is automatically risky because training to use automobiles is rather low, and they’re most attractive to the people least qualified to use them safely. But between engineering, training, and proper regulations, I really can’t see an excuse for why crane accidents shouldn’t come around more than every few El Niño cycles.

        And to answer your question, I doubt construction workers are exactly the biggest crime targets. But there are probably only thousands of people using these types of cranes every year, so one death is proportionately a much bigger deal than one car accident.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Some no doubt attribute this to a nefarious, nebulous force like teh librulz, who haven’t held power since either Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush (depending on your preferred definition), but there is an inescapable tendency in American politics to just think things will go well if we throw money at a problem. Other prominent examples are schools, highways, the war on drugs, the FRA, and arguably policing in general.

  3. Hank says:

    Why is the response to tragedy always a kneejerk increase in costs via oversight? It looks like the MTA, OSHA and DOB will investigate and come up with a way to hopefully prevent this from happening again, but the last thing we need is the city council (particularly a grandstanding demagogue like Quinn) involved in overseeing safety on MTA capital projects.

  4. 3ddie says:

    I think Quinn is trying to get more bureaucracy into an already bloated project, this will only raise the costs for all of us and give more work to extended safety operators. Mistake and accidents happen, there is no project that can go without glitches.
    I think we should let the State investigate and wait for their conclusions. I doubt the city can do any better.

  5. Phantom says:

    –it’s hard to believe this city cant manage the safety of cranes.–

    Construction is an inherently dangerous activity.

    In order to judge how good a job is being done, you need to benchmark NYC / NYS safety rates with other places in the US and world.

    There will unfortunately always be accidents.

  6. UESider says:

    no doubt construction is dangerous, but danger should be limited to the unforeseen and unpreventable

    a crane should never, ever collapse. this is one of the most preventable of dangers and it should not ever happen, especially in a place like nyc, where they are so frequently used and there is so much at risk in any collapse.

    and yet, major collapses occur far too frequently. and, as it turns out, all were the result of poor inspections and corrupted officials.

    we will have to wait for the investigation of what actually caused it, but these are entirely preventable and should be! and needn’t be costly!

    • Phantom says:

      A quick search show crane collapse incidents in London, Toronto and Sydney in the recent past.

      Zero accidents should be the goal, but I have never heard anyone with knowledge of the industry state that it is a realistic one.

      If there are best practices that we don’t use, lets adopt them now.

  7. UESider says:

    thats immaterial pete – these accidents can and should be prevented.

  8. SpendmoreWastemore says:

    When you let the Mob run construction you will have accidents. A few more inspectors taking payoffs will just move the accidents to something that isn’t bringing heat.

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