Crane Accidents: Everything to Know About Where & Why They Happen

Crane accidents have been in the news lately, but in reality, they hardly leave. These towering machines seem to collapse a few times a year, injuring or killing construction workers and bystanders alike. Why is that? Are these machines simply prone to accidents, or are there industry practices driving these incidents to higher rates?

Our crane accident lawyers have represented a number of clients who’ve lost limbs or loved ones to negligence in crane operation. In today’s article, we wanted to explain what cranes are, what makes them important today, and why we need to do everything we can to prevent crane accidents—for the sake of public safety as well as job safety.

What Are Cranes & How Do They Work?

Cranes are, on one hand, one of the most important tools for advanced maritime and construction work. Neither ports nor skyscrapers/high-rises could function (or exist) without these massive movers. At the same time, cranes operate under some of the oldest mechanical principles in history.

Fundamentally, a crane is a lever that moves and places heavy loads. Pulleys, cables, and levers multiply force, allowing for careful and precise movements of things with enormous mass.

The fundamental components of a crane include:

  • Hoists: the cable that holds the load
  • Pulleys: where the hoist attaches to load (or hook block)
  • Booms: the lever that moves the load

However, cranes come in all different shapes and types, according to their function. As a result, there are secondary components common to modern cranes. Counterweights allow for smooth, balanced movement; jibs allow cranes to carry loads further away safely; gantries run cable to the top of a boom to raise or lower it; lines and pendants connect booms to masts, which is a secondary arm that operates on the same principles as a gantry; slews allow the crane to rotate horizontally.

Types of Cranes

The most fundamental divide between types of cranes are mobile cranes and fixed cranes. Fixed cranes are attached to a foundation and stay in place for the entirety of a job (or the entirety of its working life). Tower cranes are an example of fixed cranes. Mobile cranes can move, although differ in terms how much they can move. On one end, you have truck cranes, which travel in the bed of highway-legal commercial trucks. On the other end, there are crawlers—enormous cranes on rolling treads that move around in a single worksite, but need as many as 50 trucks to carry its components from worksite to worksite.

Common types of cranes include:

  • Crawlers: large mobile cranes often equipped with treaded wheels (like a tank).
  • Hammerhead towers: construction cranes with a vertical mast, atop which sits a fixed horizontal jib; looks like a capital-T.
  • Luffing towers: construction cranes with a vertical mast and V-shaped boom and mast, which allows boom to rise and descend.
  • Derrick cranes: vertical or A-frame cranes used for raising and lowering loads without horizontal movement.
  • Overhead cranes/gantries: commonly used at ports and factories for moving heavy loads along a fixed track.
  • Truck cranes: general-use mobile cranes, often used to assist with assembling larger cranes.

Cranes are employed in every industry and at virtually every kind of worksite where heavy loads need to be moved en masse. Naturally, this is why there are so many crane types in use today. Common places you’ll find cranes include refineries, oil drilling platforms, ports or canals, factories, mines or quarries, and construction sites for both residential and commercial buildings.

The Most Likely Causes of Crane Accidents

Given the straightforwardness of a crane’s basic design, it should be fairly easy to avoid serious accidents. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in reality. OSHA data finds that 74% of crane accidents occur during routine activities, which suggests that these catastrophic accidents result from routine mistakes.

Per OSHA data, these are the most common crane accidents:

  • Crushed by load (37%): includes load swing or crane topple—often due to improper weight balancing, but also due to poor foundation.
  • Load dropped (27%): caused by poor rigging, in general where the hoist attaches to the load.
  • Fall from a height (12%)
  • Crushed or run over by overhead/gantry crane (11%)
  • Improper lockout/tagout (6%): related to (and sometimes reported as) electrocution
  • Other (7%)

The most recent crane accident cases we’ve investigated align with this data. In one case, a crane was not properly secured before a storm with high wind speeds, causing the crane to collapse on a nearby apartment building. In another case, the crane’s operator was instructed to lift a load beyond what the crane could lift safely, causing it to topple.

States Where Crane Accidents Are Most Likely to Occur

In 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported data on fatal crane incidents from 2011–2017, ranking the ‘top’ 5 states where crane accidents occur most. These states are Texas (50), Florida (16), New York (16), California (14), and Illinois (14). In the same period, Louisiana nearly ranked among these 5 with 12 fatal crane incidents in the same period. However, as you can see, Texas has more crane accidents than the next three states combined.

There may be an obvious reason for that, which required us to look at the number of high-rise projects currently under construction in major US metropolitan areas.

Why Crane Accidents in Texas, Florida & Louisiana Happen So Often

Ranking among the 10 US cities with the most skyscrapers under construction were three Texas cities: Dallas (16), Houston (16), and Austin (26). Miami ranked third on the list, with 37 high-rise and skyscraper projects as of early 2023. Other data shows that, since 2016, Dallas and Houston have led the country in new housing construction—including high-rise apartments. Residential construction accounts for over half of all crane usage in construction nationwide.

What about Louisiana?

Louisiana crane accidents are a special case because, unlike Texas or Florida, the biggest crane accidents don’t happen in the construction industry. Of the 12 crane accidents that occurred in Louisiana from 2011–2017, 9 of them were not construction related at all. In fact, many of them were related to the maritime industry. Given that Louisiana has one of the largest ports (by tonnage) in the Western Hemisphere, it makes sense why there’d be so many crane-related injuries or fatalities in Louisiana.

Crane Safety Is Public Safety

There are an enormous number of cranes in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, and many of them are located in crowded urban centers. Thousands of people live, drive, and eat in the shadow of these enormous machines. For some, that has cost them their lives.

It’s paramount for construction companies, crane manufacturers, and crane companies to take every possible measure to make crane operation safe. This includes training operators, ensuring construction crews are aware of all crane operations at all times, and ensuring every part of a crane is maintained and inspected as often as necessary.

When they don’t, it’s often the people on the ground as well as the person in the cab who pays the price.

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