Materials in Motion

Crane Fatalities & Safety

Over the past decade, there have been few safety resources available to companies and employees working with, in, or around overhead cranes. There are two major industries with an alarming number of worker fatalities due to improper or unsafe use of a crane: construction and manufacturing. 

According to multiple sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OSHA, CPWR, and the Steel Manufacturers Association, the number of crane-related incidents in construction from 1992 to 2006 is staggering. In fact, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) released a 2008 report that detailed an annual average of 42 deaths in the construction industry—all of which were the direct result of preventable crane-related incidents. A 2008 report developed by BLS and CPWR outlined numerous crane-related deaths in 2008 and 2010—revealing that the number of these incidents is increasing every year.

Crane Related Deaths in Construction

In the 2008 report, The CPWR’s Director of Safety Research worked with two other CPWR colleagues to collect data and develop content based on findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the report, the Director of Safety Research Michael McCann identified 632 total deaths involving 611 crane incidents from 1992-2006. Furthermore, the report also outlines a long list of examples of crane incidents that resulted in both construction worker and bystander fatalities and injuries. 

1.) Crane-Related Eloctrocutions

According to their statistics, the most common cause of crane-related deaths in 2008 was from power line electrocutions. Of the 632 total crane-related deaths, overhead power lines contributed to 157 deaths (roughly 25 percent). More than half of these electrocutions were associated with the crane boom, cable, or load line contacting an overhead power line. The remaining 47 percent involved contact of an overhead power line with an unspecified part of the crane.

2.) Struck by Crane Load

The second leading cause of crane-related deaths is from workers who are struck by the crane load. Of the 132 crane-load deaths, 32 percent occurred while loading and unloading the crane, while 14 percent involved flagging/directing the crane load. Only seven percent of crane-load deaths were the result of operating the crane, while 15 percent involved miscellaneous crane-related work. Perhaps most importantly, the major causes of crane-load related deaths resulted from the load coming loose; the rigging cable breaking; the load striking a worker while tilting; the load shifting or rotating into a worker; the load coming loose; and the load straps, braces, safety latches, or sling clips failing. Of the total number of crane-load related deaths, a staggering 33 percent of them provided no indication as to why workers were struck by a load. 

3.) Struck by The Crane

Much like crane-load related deaths, the third leading cause of death involved 125 workers who were struck by the crane itself or another part of the system. According to the study, 64 deaths involved being struck by falling crane booms/jibs. Roughly half of those deaths involved a dismantled boom; six involved lengthening the boom; eight involved breaking the boom or boom cable; and 14 involved other unspecified causes.

4.) Crane Collapses

Crane collapses were the fourth leading cause of death at 21 percent. Cranes that are assembled or installed on an unstable, uneven, or icy surface often cause collapses that are catastrophic. But, crane collapses are also commonly associated with a crane that’s been loaded beyond its rated capacity, along with improper operation of the crane load or boom.

Fatalities by Crane Type & State

These incidents involved four main types of cranes: mobile/truck cranes, overhead or gantry cranes, tower cranes, and floating or barge cranes. Of the 611 deaths recorded from 1992 to 2006, only 375 (nearly half) accurately identified the type of crane involved when reporting the incidents to the CFOI’s record. Of the 375 recorded crane types, 292 involved mobile or track cranes, 45 involved overhead or gantry cranes, 18 involved tower cranes, and 11 involved floating or barge cranes. The report also asserts that 35 states sustained 97 crane incidents involving 57 deaths and 127 injuries. Of those 35 states, New York had the most incidents followed by Texas and Florida.

Mislabeled Worker Fatalities

Experts believe that many more deaths have resulted from improper use of cranes, poor training, and lack of safety regulations. However, experts also believe that the miscalculation of crane-related deaths is due to mislabeled worker fatalities—thus dramatically reducing the number of crane-related incidents on record. Furthermore, many of these companies will mislabel their fatalities as “accidental” rather than crane-related to avoid fines and/or responsibility.

Crane-related construction worker deaths are identified using a source code (# 34), which represents crane-related fatalities. The CFOI narratives are used to classify these incidents by cause, occupation, and establishment size. If a worker’s death is mislabeled with the incorrect source code, the CFOI records don’t display the death as crane-related.

Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

If you need further proof that crane-related injuries and deaths are on the rise, just check out the following statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Research File: the census outlines fatal U.S. occupational injuries in 2012 by sector and industry. According to their statistics, 723 workers in the private industry sector died by coming into contact with moving objects and equipment—like overhead cranes. Furthermore, 136 construction workers died the same way, along with 102 from the manufacturing industry.

Crane Deaths in Steel Manufacturing

The steel manufacturing industry has seen its fair share of worker deaths due to human error and lack of training and on-the-job support. In fact, the Steel Manufacturer’s Association developed its own Crane Fatality Prevention Initiative in 2011, which is dedicated to preventing fatalities in the steel industry. The initiative is outlined in a document that highlights important goals, best & worst practices, guidelines, scope and responsibility, and references. It was created to help employers initiate better training and safety procedures for steel manufacturers who work near or with overhead cranes. 

OSHA Safety Guidelines & Training

OSHA considers material handling and the movement of large and/or heavy loads a crucial element in U.S. manufacturing and construction. They address the growing safety issues and guidelines for crane operators and people working near them in OSHA 29 CFR 1919, which is perhaps the most important set of federal guidelines for crane safety and training regulations.

Additional Training Options

For employers who are looking to train their employees on the safety guidelines outlined by OSHA and provide workers with additional, you can visit the E-Train Today website, which offers a comprehensive list of online and/or classroom training courses. And, if you sign up for their monthly Safety Newsletter, they will send you a free 110-page OSHA Manual on Training Requirements, which is broken down into sections for ease of use and readability. You can also access several resources online, including the Safe Operating Practices & Maintenance Manuals from TC/American, or check out Spanco’s blog post about crane safety and The Three Most Common Hazards and Preventative Measures.

Kristina Harman

Technical Writer | Spanco.com

Kristina Harman is the senior technical writer and content manager for Spanco, Inc. Kristina has twelve years of experience in content development, technical communications, and copyediting. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in English from Towson University and a Master of Education Certification in English from Johns Hopkins University. She is a member of the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association.

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