Investigations of a tower crane collapse that killed four people in Seattle April 27 have grown to include several companies involved in the construction of a new Google building in the city’s South Lake Union district.

The Seattle Times reported that the tower crane was being disassembled when it broke in half shortly before 3:30 p.m. The upper section of the steel crane broke into smaller sections as it toppled over onto the building. Sections of the crane landed on the busy street, killing two people who were in their cars and two construction workers. Three others were taken to the hospital with injuries.

Investigators are interviewing officials and gathering documents from five companies working on the building and operating the crane. The probe now covers general contractor GLY construction, subcontractors Northwest Tower Crane Service and Omega Morgan, the crane’s owner Morrow Equipment, and Seaburg Construction, which employed the operator of the tower crane.

Seattle city officials said they typically rely on companies engaged in the construction to determine which streets will be closed off when a crane is being disassembled and other heavy work. The construction companies apply for permits from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to close the appropriate streets, The Seattle Times reported, citing city officials.

Subcontractor Omega Morgan received an SDOT permit to close sections of Valley Street and Boren Avenue North over the weekend, but Mercer Street, where the fatalities occurred, remained open. City officials told The Seattle Times that the company did not seek a permit to close sections of that street, one of Seattle’s busiest streets.

Wind and human error

Investigators are looking into whether wind gusts in the area at the time of the crane collapse could have contributed. Workers were unbolting sections of the tower crane and lifting them away using a heavy-lift crane as heavy winds blew through the region.

Timothy Galarnyk, a construction safety expert, told CNN he believes “there’s a 99% chance that this is a human error cause and not a structural or mechanical failure by the machine.”

Mandi Kime, director of safety at the Associated General Contractors of Washington (AGC), told The Seattle Times that construction companies and other contractors usually focus on the areas where work or staging is being directly performed. In this case, none of the work on the Google buildings was being done on Mercer.

Ms. Klime said getting street closures in Seattle approved is usually very difficult and typically construction companies seek multiple closures but get negotiated down to fewer by the city.

Authorities identify the victims

Seattle authorities identified the victims of the crane collapse as Sarah Wong, 19; Alan Justad, 71; Andrew Yoder, 31; and Travis Corbet, 33.

Ms. Wong, from Pasadena, California, was attending Seattle Pacific University where she was studying to be a neonatal nurse.

Mr. Justad formerly worked as a planning official in the administrations of two Seattle mayors, where he promoted downtown growth and development.

Mr. Yoder and Mr. Corbet were members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Worker. They were working on the crane when it collapsed.

The crane collapse also injured a 25-year-old mother and her 4-month-old daughter as well as a 28-year-old man, according to The Seattle Times. They were taken to Harborview Medical Center while a fourth person injured person was treated at the scene.

The dangers of construction and cranes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ranks construction among the deadliest occupations in the U.S. year after year. In 2017, for instance, 971 of the 4,674 worker deaths in the private sector – nearly 21% – occurred in the construction industry.

Cranes, specifically, are extremely deadly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 44 workers are killed each year in crane accidents.

To address some of the dangers cranes present to workers and the general public, OSHA issued a final rule in February tightening crane regulations. The new rule, which went into effect in March, requires employers to test crane operators and rate their competency before certifying them and allowing them to operate.

Stever Frein, lead crane instructor at West Coast Training near Woodland, Washington, told Portland, Oregon’s KGW8 that “cranes are probably the most dangerous piece of equipment out there.

“There’s people that have been operating for 20 years and they get too complacent, too comfortable with their machine, and they mess up,” Mr. Frein told KGW8. “I always tell all my students, never get too comfortable in a crane, no matter how long you’ve been in it. You’ve got to stay a little bit afraid of that machine so you’ll be OK.”

Additional sources:
The Oregonian
Q13 Fox Seattle

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