'Serious’ and ‘willful’ safety violations led to deadly Seattle crane collapse

SEATTLE -- A state investigation has concluded that “serious” and “willful” safety violations, combined with sudden gusts of wind, led to the collapse of a crane across Seattle’s Mercer Street in April, killing four people. A criminal probe is also under way, Q13 News has confirmed.

Three of five companies at the center of the probe have been cited by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the agency announced Thursday.

“When we investigate, our goal is to learn what happened, find the root cause, and let everyone know the action that should be taken to prevent it from ever happening again,” said Joel Sacks, director of the agency.

The most serious violation was levied against Morrow Equipment Company out of Eugene, Oregon. Morrow supplied the 278-foot tower crane used at the site and provided a technician trained to properly assemble and disassemble the cranes. However, according to L&I, the technician failed to follow disassembly recommendations from the manufacturer.

Morrow received one “willful” violation related to the collapse, meaning the state believes the company acted with intentional disregard or indifference for safety. The fine for that violation is $70,000.

How the crane collapsed

According to investigators, iron workers with Northwest Tower Crane Service, acting at the direction of and with Morrow’s technician, failed to properly disassemble the crane, leaving it prone to sudden wind gusts.

The workers, both of whom died in the collapse, had removed the pins that helped to hold all sections of the tower crane together. Simultaneously, two gusts of wind – in excess of 45 mph – blew through the site, causing the crane to move suddenly and fall onto the street below.

Had disassembly been done properly and in line with manufacturer recommendations, the pins would have been removed section-by-section, and only once an assist crane had come in to secure each section first. Starting at the top, sections would have been lifted to the ground before safety pins were removed for the next section.

Other culpability

State investigators also levied three serious violations - totaling $25,200 - against GLY Construction, the general contractor at the site, including allegations that they did not ensure disassembly of the crane was supervised by a qualified person, and that the company did not ensure site personnel were aware of the hazards of not following manufacturer recommendations.

Northwest Tower Crane Service, which employed the iron workers, was cited with three serious safety violations, including not following manufacturer procedures and failing to ensure there were procedures in place to prevent the unintended movement or collapse of the crane. They face $12,000 in fines.

Two other companies eyed in the investigation, crane operators Omega Morgan and Seaburg Construction, were found to have no culpability in the collapse and followed all safety recommendations, investigators determined.