Expert: Construction site plans should prevent crane collisions

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following a collision between two cranes in East Austin that hospitalized 16 people Wednesday morning, one crane expert told KXAN that when safety plans are followed such an accident should not happen.

The cranes struck each other at a commercial construction site at 1600 Robert Browning Street in East Austin. With 16 people sent to local hospitals, Scott Orr, owner of Paradise Crane Consultants, said he would consider it a significant accident.

Speaking generally, Orr said that with two cranes operating on one project the contractor in charge would have detailed plans designating work zones for each crane.

“There should be some type of planning that says we’ve looked at this, and we’ve looked at their radiuses and capabilities. And crane A is going to work here, and crane B is going to work there, whereby they can’t get together like that,” Orr said.

If any work would deviate from those plans, and one crane may need to enter another crane’s zone of work, then all crane operation would need to stop and the contractors would need to meet, discuss and agree on a new plan.

“If that planning takes place, and everybody abides by that, we don’t get booms together,” Orr said, referring to the crane’s extending arms.

It is not yet clear what caused the crane collision Wednesday.

Cadence McShane, which is the general contractor for the office building and parking garage project, and Catellus, the project’s developer, did not identify the subcontractor that was operating the cranes at the time of the accident.

Orr said he would not speculate on what exactly caused the accident without more information. He said investigators would likely be checking into planning documents and making sure the crane operators had national accreditation for the types of cranes they were operating.

Investigation pending

Cadence McShane Senior Vice President, Craig Morris, said his company is investigating the incident with local authorities.

“We are in close contact with our subcontractors, local authorities, and our on-site team to better understand what transpired,” Morris said in a prepared statement. “More importantly, we are working with the crane subcontractor and the fire department to ensure the damaged crane is safely dismantled. Since this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide additional details at this time.”

Brian Dolezal, vice president of communications for Catellus’ “Mueller Redevelopment” said his company is “deeply grateful” that emergency services arrived quickly.

“Catellus is committed to the safety and security of the community, and we understand everyone affected by this accident is being properly cared for,” Dolezal said in an email. “The construction site’s contractor is in close contact with the crane operators and City officials to determine the cause of this incident and to ensure the highest safety standards.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees construction safety standards, has inspected Cadence McShane construction sites five times in the past four years — twice in 2019, twice in 2017 and once in 2016.

OSHA cited the company one time for a “housekeeping” violation following a planned 2017 inspection. The housekeeping standard cited by OSHA relates to proper removal of debris from the construction site. The company resolved that violation with an informal settlement of $2,850 that year.

Crane permitting

KXAN asked the City of Austin’s Development Services Department about the number of cranes currently operating in the city, but that information was not immediately available.

Alex Gale, interim officer with the City of Austin’s Real Estate Department, said the city does require the developer to have a license agreement with the city, if its crane will swing over public property, such as a right of way or street.

“The developers would have to get a license agreement, basically showing that they are going to encroach on that and showing that they have all the applicable insurance requirements as such, if there is something that were to occur with a crane falling, or something like that, in the right of way,” Gale said.

Gale added that his office had checked and they had not found a record of a license agreement for the Mueller development crane operation.

“Downtown the cranes typically do swing into the right of way. They typically have a licensing agreement because it is hard not to swing into the right of way,” Gale said. “In Mueller, you know, there is a little bit more green space out there, so they may be able to contain that a little bit better out there.”

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