‘It was very alarming:’ Regulators claim crane crews ignored protocols before deadly collapse

TUKWILLA, Wash. – State regulators fined three construction companies for their role in a deadly crane collapse in Seattle last April.

The disaster killed four people.

State investigators found workers ignored the crane manufacturer’s guidelines when they removed most of the devices meant to keep the crane from toppling over while being dismantled.

Regulators levied more than $100,000 in fines. During the course of the investigation L & I alleges multiple crews may have been dismantling cranes incorrectly for some time, and that April’s crash may have been an accident waiting to happen.

After nearly six months, the state’s Department of Labor and Industries revealed a disturbing conclusion: Crews may have been cutting corners and ignoring protocols meant to keep the crane from falling while being disassembled.

“The root cause for this particular accident was rather obvious to us,” said specialty compliance inspector Brian Haight.

Regulators allege the crews tearing down the crane removed pins and other equipment before it was safe – and when the winds gusted, the crane’s separated components could no longer withstand the pressure.

The crane collapsed onto the building and to the street below.

Three companies responsible for the crane’s disassembly were cited by regulators:

Morrow Equipment was fined $70,000 and cited for a willful, serious violation, alleging their workers either knew or ignored legal requirements or were indifferent to safety protocols.

Northwest Crane Services was fined $12,000 for three serious violations for not training workers properly, not following manufacturer’s procedures and that the company didn’t make sure workers understood their duties.

GLY Construction was fined just over $25,000 and cited for three serious violations for not having a qualified supervisor on site, not following manufacturer’s procedures and not taking weather into account.

GLY’s president share a statement with Q13 News that reads in part:

“We have already made changes to our systems and implemented protections based on immediate key learnings from the event, and we remain committed to upholding strict industry safety protocols.”

What’s worse, investigators say, they began to learn other crane dismantling crews operating at other job sites may also have been cutting corners but without fatal consequences.

“Frankly it was very alarming to us to discover what they were doing in this instance,” said Haight. “It could very possibly have been around the nation; we could have seen more of these accidents.”

State regulators said April’s tragedy spurred the agency to alert crane companies across the state and country to remind them to follow manufacturer procedures when tearing equipment down.

Labor and Industries also says most crane companies have agreed to notify the agency when new cranes go up so inspectors can check for compliance.

Plus, what L & I learns from this spring’s disaster could help write tougher regulations for the industry.

“We did investigate the Bellevue crane collapse in 2006 and we learned a lot at that time and those learnings were incorporated into the rules that we issued in 2010,” said L & I’s Anne Soiza. “I strongly suspect that from this incident we will take into account other learning as we go forward and issue even more revised crane safety rules for the future.”

The Seattle Police Department is investigating the incident and depending what it finds may refer the case to county prosecutors.

The other two companies cited and fined by regulators, Morrow and Northwest Crane, did not immediately return messages to Q13 News seeking comment.