Construction groups say city’s crane wind-speed rule is “arbitrary and capricious”

A petition seeks to block the regulation

TRD New York /
October 26, 2016 08:00 AM
From left: Lou Colletti and scene from February crane collapse on Worth Street

From left: Lou Colletti and scene from February crane collapse on Worth Street

Construction groups think a “new” city regulation on operating cranes in high winds is full of hot air.

The Building Trades Employers Association — which represents groups such as the Contractors Association of Greater New York and the Allied Building Metals Industries — seeks to block a city regulation that requires crawler cranes to stop operating when wind gusts exceed 30 mph. On Tuesday, it filed a petition against the Department of Buildings and Commissioner Richard Chandler to appeal the rule, which was revived following a fatal crane collapse in February.

The regulation — which has actually been on the books since 1968 — gained attention in June, as part of a series of recommendations from a construction safety group appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The recommendations came in the wake of a crane collapse that killed a 38-year-old pedestrian in Tribeca. A crane operator was attempting to lower a crane when it crashed onto Ward Street. Wind speeds at the time were in excess of 20 mph.

The group claims that while the rule is an old one, the DOB rarely enforced it. The petition also points out that the city hasn’t determined an official cause of the fatal crane collapse, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled that the incident was due to an operator error. The group alleges that enforcing this rule will simply create the same hazard that led to the Tribeca collapse: Crane operators lowering booms when wind speeds reach 30 mph.

“DOB can point to no engineering or scientific study and no other municipal, state or national regulatory scheme that has found that crawler crane operations somehow become unsafe at 30 mph,” the petition states. “The 30 mph limitation has been mischaracterized as adding an extra margin of safety to New York crane operation, but it does the opposite: it makes unusual and risky crane operations more common.”

The petition also alleges that the safety group didn’t adequately consult the construction industry when it drafted the recommendations.

A DOB spokesperson said that the working group regularly consulted the construction industry. He also noted that the DOB’s investigation is ongoing.

“The city’s crane rules are there to protect people’s lives,” a DOB spokesperson said in a statement. “Cranes should not be operating in high winds. We look forward to reviewing this action and are confident we will prevail.”

BTEA’s petition claims the rule is “arbitrary and capricious” and will “significantly increase construction costs without any corresponding benefit to public safety.” The rule is actually a milder version of the initial one put in place in the crane collapse’s immediate aftermath. The city temporarily required crawler crane’s to cease operations when wind speeds exceeded 20 mph — a policy it walked back a few months later.

Construction safety is currently a hot-button issue in New York. By the city’s count, 11 people died on construction sites in 2015, up from eight the previous year and four in 2011. The number of construction-related accidents hit 500 in fiscal year 2016, compared to 314 the previous year — a 59 percent jump and a more than 200 percent increase from 2012.