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New York City Crane Collapse Update: A Bad Weld May be at Fault

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New York, NYIn the aftermath of the latest construction crane collapse in New York City that claimed two lives yesterday, focus is being placed on a potentially faulty weld in an integral part of the crane structure.

The larger issue, however—and one that has been the subject of much debate over the past 24 hours—remains how this could have happened in view of the stringent tightening of regulations that was the result of a March 16th collapse that took seven lives. Commenting to a reporter from the New York Times on Friday Louis J. Coletti, who is president of the Building Trades Employers' Association, said "you've seen some new regulation put into place by the City, but today we're talking about an incident where every regulation has been followed."

Crane WorkersIt was just after 8am yesterday morning when a construction crane manufactured by Kodiak came apart at the point where the cab and the crane boom are attached to the crane by way of a rotating metal plate. It fell 23 stories to the ground below, killing the crane operator who was trapped in the cab, and one other construction worker.

The crane, one of dozens in New York City that have been pressed into service during the current building boom in the bustling metropolis, was erected April 20th and 21st. It has been reported that city inspectors shut the crane down on two separate occasions for safety reasons, however those problems were believed to have been unrelated to the accident yesterday.

Rather, the focus is turning to a metal plate that resides at the base of the turntable underneath the cab. On May 16th 2007—just over a year prior to the fateful accident yesterday—a worker discovered a crack in the metal plate of that same crane, which at the time was being used to put up a building at 46th Street in New York. Work was promptly halted until the turntable could be replaced.

Investigators are now trying to determine just what became of that broken turntable from last year. Could it have been repaired, and put back into service? That's the million-dollar question being asked right now.

One person expressed the view that a weld made to repair the turntable might have given way. It has also been reported that photographs taken from the perspective of the top of the crane tower yesterday revealed two, thin beads of weld that appeared to have broken away, at the point where the cab once stood.

The crane is thought to be about 20 years old and was manufactured by Kodiak, a company that is no longer in business. However, the crane involved in yesterday's accident is owned and maintained by New York Crane—which also happens to own the crane that toppled earlier this spring.

As investigators comb through maintenance records for clues, the very fact this incident happened so soon after regulations were beefed up is the cause for much concern. In spite of mandatory safety meetings and the strengthening of procedures for erecting, jumping (making taller) and dismantling cranes, and heightened inspections, an entity weighing several tons came crashing to the ground in the midst of the morning rush hour at 8:06am, killing two people. It was not clear if the inspection protocol improvements included the turntable mechanism, the part of the crane that failed yesterday.

It has been reported that while a fault might be more readily noticed before a crane has been assembled, inspecting a turntable after assembly is a much more difficult assignment.

Cranes are a mainstay for the construction of high-rise buildings. The problem is that there are not enough of them to go around. It has been reported that during the current building boom, construction schedules have been designed around the availability of cranes, and the pressure to keep cranes operating in an effort to maintain those construction schedules is intense.

It is certain that City officials will beef up regulations and inspection protocols even further, following this latest disaster. However, questions remain. Was the turntable plate pulled from the crane last May, repaired and re-used? If so, was it repaired correctly? Should it have been repaired at all? Is it wise to think that a weld can withstand the same pressures and stresses from intense weight, and motion as virgin steel, free from a breach, crack or break?

So many questions, so few answers. The fact remains, however that residents of New York residing anywhere near an operating construction crane have been living in fear for weeks, since the last collapse in March. Residents of the Electra, a 23-story apartment building at 91st and First Avenue and located within the shadow of the doomed crane, have said they feared a collapse. Call it a premonition. One expressed the view in the New York Times that it wasn't a matter of 'if' but 'when'…

This latest collapse will certainly have lasting repercussions, depending upon whatever facts are revealed that determines the cause. The City was slammed with claims originating from the first collapse in March, and it will most assuredly be facing additional litigation over this one.

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