Crane safety top of mind amid highrise building boom

Though it happened across the border, April’s collapse of a tower crane in downtown Seattle wasn’t far from the minds of B.C.’s crane community at a safety conference in Richmond.

In the Seattle incident, crews disassembling an 85-metre-tall crane removed too many connecting bolts too soon, against manufacturer instructions, and the structure toppled in a gust of wind killing two ironworkers who rode it down and two people in cars on the street below.

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“It’s a wake-up call for sure,” said Fraser Cocks, executive director of B.C. Crane Safety, the agency responsible for certification of crane operators in the province and co-organizer of the conference with WorkSafe B.C.

“You always hear about them in the news and the question comes up, can it happen here?” Cocks said, adding that such disasters always get the industry examining how it operates.

With 300 tower cranes at work in B.C., 250 in the Lower Mainland alone, and no sign of the sector slowing down, B.C. Crane Safety and WorkSafe B.C. co-hosted their second annual safety conference for 160 industry leaders.

In the province’s case, WorkSafe B.C. immediately sent a letter out after the Seattle disaster reminding crane owners to be diligent about following manufacturer instructions when assembling or disassembling tower cranes, said Doug Younger, a key occupational safety officer on the agency’s crane inspection team.

“That kind of event that close is immediately blasted out,” Younger said.

Generally, Younger said, the crane sector’s safety record is “quite good.”

“We have the industry’s ear. It’s a small industry and it’s fair to say 80 per cent of [its] leadership is here,” Younger said.

At the same time, there are safety issues that Younger wants to stay on top of. For instance, he said this year WorkSafe B.C. has recorded 22 contact incidents with tower cranes, incidents where cranes have hit power lines, hit other structures or another crane on construction sites where two or more cranes operate on overlapping paths.

None of those resulted in injuries or fatalities, but all of them had potential to be catastrophic, Younger said, and all of them were preventable.

And so many cranes at work in the province, from downtown Vancouver and Victoria to B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam project near Fort St. John, Younger said, “work sites aren’t getting any easier.”

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