Houston Crane Accident Lawyers
Texas Law Firm Protecting Workers Injured by Heavy Equipment Accidents
Cranes, or derricks as they’re called in the offshore industry, are responsible for carrying extreme loads effectively by lifting them and moving them through a job site. Any amount of negligence or recklessness on the part of the operator could cause the heavy load to plummet to the ground onto a bystander. Sadly, this happens more often than people may believe—dozens of workers are killed every year in crane accidents.
Due to the high-stakes nature of crane operations, heavy equipment accidents from crane failures or operator negligence are often fatal. The rate of fatality from improper crane use is startling—dozens of people die every year in crane accidents (between 72 and 97 according to data from 1997-2006). As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict regulations on how to operate cranes safely.
How Is a Crane Designed?
Understanding how a crane works reveals why crane malfunctions are so costly. Each part of the crane is dependent on the others—meaning the failure of one part can result in the catastrophic failure of the whole mechanism.
There are three major components of a crane:
The lever is what allows the crane to lift a heavy object without tipping over. This horizontal beam pivots around what is called a "fulcrum," or the point where one end of the lever transfers power to the other—essentially the center point of a see-saw. The heavy load goes on the shorter end, while the longer end applies force in the opposite direction. This design uses the principle of mechanical advantage. As long as the load's weight does not exceed the applied force or the other way around, then the crane stays stable.
The pulley is an axle that the cable, wire, or belt moves around. These cables are wrapped around a fixed part of the crane, while also wrapping around the block attached to the load. The winding machine then pulls the free end (not attached to the crane or object being lifted), and the principle of mechanical advantage is used to ensure that the force of the load does not exceed the force of the crane itself.
The Hydraulic Cylinder
The hydraulic cylinder is what powers the lift of the load.
Common Types of Cranes
One of the more popular types of cranes is an overhead crane, commonly used in warehouses and factories. With these, there is a beam that runs along the ceiling with a hook and line mechanism. They are especially important in steel manufacturing.
Other types of cranes include:
- Truck mounted cranes are easily movable. The lifting capacities of these cranes are typically a maximum of 1,300 short tons.
- Crawler cranes (more commonly: "crawlers") are mounted onto tracks or tread belts wrapped around wheels (like tank treads).
- Floating cranes are commonly used in the offshore industry for the construction of bridges over water.
This is only a small sampling of the many types of cranes and heavy equipment accidents that could cause damage and personal harm to others.
Other types of cranes that could be involved in a heavy equipment accident include the following:
- Aerial Cranes
- All-Terrain Cranes
- Bulk-Handling Cranes
- Carry Deck Cranes
- Deck Cranes
- Fixed Cranes
- Gantry Cranes
- Hammerhead Cranes
- Jib Cranes
- Level Luffing Cranes
- Loader Cranes
- Overhead Cranes
- Pick-and-Carry Cranes
- Railroad Cranes
- Self-Erecting Cranes
- Sidelift Cranes
- Stacker Cranes
- Telescopic Cranes
- Telescopic Handler Cranes
Examples of What Causes Crane Accidents in Texas
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ research into crane accidents found that human error causes 90% of injuries. Simply obeying manufacturer specifications would prevent dozens of deaths a year—80% of accidents are caused by exceeding the crane’s operational capacity.
These operational errors can be broken down into 4 categories that make up nearly all crane fatalities:
- Contact with Object or Equipment — 61%
- Falls — 20%
- Transportation Incidents — 10%
- Contact with Electrical Currents — 8%
Some of the most common causes of crane accidents include the following:
- Electrocution – Crane booms, cables, or other parts can come into contact with a live power line while under operation.
- Accidents During Crane Assembly - Crane assembly and disassembly must be done according to the manufacturer's specifications. Before operation, tests must be performed to gauge the stability of the crane. Failure to do this can cause accidents and can often be traced to a lack of proper communication among the workers involved in the procedure or human error at any point in the procedure. Crane assembly and disassembly related accidents account for about 12% of all crane accidents.
- Crane Boom Collapse Accidents – Extending the crane boom beyond manufacturer's specifications can affect the crane's capacity to carry loads and lead to tremendous pressure on mechanical, hydraulic, and structural components. It can collapse, injuring operators and workers standing below. Crane boom buckling or collapse-related accidents make up about 8% of crane accidents.
- Crane Tip-Over - Crane tipping occurs when there is overloading beyond the crane's capacity, or when ground conditions are unstable or uneven, causing the crane to tip over or collapse.
- Inadequate Crane Operator Training - Insufficient training is both a primary and secondary cause. The operator is required to recognize when the crane has reached its maximum loading point and whether conditions on the ground are ideal.
- Crane Load Accidents - Workers who are within the swing radius of an operating crane can be struck by loads causing injuries. Employers are required to barricade the area and train workers about the hazards involved in entering the area.
- Fall Accidents – Wind conditions or an unstable platform can lead to a fall accident, particularly for operators of tower cranes who must climb extensive ladder systems to reach the crane operator cab. Employers are required to provide proper safety belts and harnesses and make arrangements for adequate guardrails and secured steps at the site.
Because human error is as common as it is costly in these cases, crane accidents need to be brought to court to address those at fault. By seeking compensation, crane accident victims can reclaim past medical expenses, provide for future medical treatment, and receive punitive damages for mental anguish or trauma. They can also help ensure that their company never allows the accident to occur again.
Other causes of crane accidents include:
- When the maximum weight is exceeded
- When a crane is improperly assembled
- When a crane has contact with overhead power lines
- When a crane is infrequently or erroneously inspected
Common Injuries Suffered in Texas Crane Accidents
- Broken or fractured bones
- Head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Crush injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Back injuries
Crane injuries generally occur when an object strikes a worker on the crane. Those types of injuries account for nearly two-thirds of all crane injuries. In fact, only 10% of crane injuries are suffered by the crane operator, meaning bystanders are at the greatest risk.
Hazards Posed by Cranes & How to Use Them Safely
Cranes provide a number of essential services in many industries such as construction, manufacturing, maritime, and transportation. Although they greatly increase efficiency, they also carry a significant danger to their operators and those nearby. In light of the high percentage of incidents in relation to the number of workers exposed to the machinery, OSHA listed crane and hoist safety as a high priority topic of discussion in 1994. This distinction has led to the development and implementation of a number of safety measures for crane operators.
Safety measures to reduce crane accidents include the following:
- Automatic alarm if a fire is detected
- Automatic crane shutdown if a fire is detected
- Boom tip camera to increase visibility and minimize blind spots
- Brake redundancy, with an extra brake in place in the case that one should fail
- Fail-safe brakes which automatically brake if the control system fails
- Hands-off communication system to keep both hands on controls
- Hydraulic system which enables maintenance of hydraulic refilling
- Load holding valves which protect against movement if a hose should rupture
- Manual emergency stop command which overrides all other commands
- Two-way communication systems
OSHA says that the best ways to minimize crane accidents include:
- Assessing all construction sites for the potential for a crane incident to occur
- Establishing a crane safety plan for each lift
- Assigning a competent person to oversee crane operations
- Utilizing qualified operators, signalpersons, and riggers
- Training ancillary workers in safe crane operation
Training and communication are key to maintaining a safe environment around a working crane. Workers must be able to communicate any issues, plans for executing work, and hazards that may arise. Signage is also important to warn other employees of any areas inside the danger zone of an operating crane. Blind spots and low visibility can make it difficult for operators to see other workers, so it is imperative that all workers understand the risks involved with cranes, even if they are not operators themselves.
Arnold & Itkin's Experience with Crane Accidents
One of Arnold & Itkin’s recent cases involved a man who was injured in a crane accident, requiring amputation of his leg above the knee. Our client was standing more than 100 feet away from a crane that was being used to drill auger cast pilings. The drill became stuck, but the foreman demanded that the crane operator continue attempting to drill, despite the operator’s requests to stop.
The operator asked the foreman if he could stop the crane five times total. As a result of the foreman’s reckless attempt to value his deadline above the safety of his employees, the crane collapsed, pinning our client underneath heavy equipment. Our firm successfully fought on his behalf, securing a $44 million verdict—the largest amputee verdict in the nation.
Results like these are what we aim for with every accident case: securing our clients' futures while ensuring they'll get high-quality care.
Call (888) 493-1629 to Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Texas Crane Accident Law Firm
If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a crane accident, you should consult with an experienced crane accident lawyer as soon as possible. In many crane accidents, several different parties could potentially be held liable for your injuries. At Arnold & Itkin, our team of lawyers has the knowledge and experience to prosecute even the most complex crane accident cases. In a recent example, we took a crane accident case all the way to trial and won a $44 million verdict for our client. We have helped dockworkers, mariners, and other workers across the U.S. to recover from serious incidents and seek compensation for the negligence that contributed to their injuries.
Call Arnold & Itkin at (888) 493-1629 to get a free consultation. We can lay out your options and help you make the choice that's best for you.