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Four Workers Killed in Crane Collapse at Houston Refinery

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, July 21, 2008 8:29 PM EST
Category: In The Workplace
Tags: Construction Safety, Construction Accident, Construction Death, Workplace Injury


IMAGE SOURCE: © Deep South Crane & Rigging

A large industrial construction crane collapsed at LynondellBasell’s Houston refinery, on Friday, killing four workers and injuring seven others in the latest of several fatal construction accidents this year that have raised concerns about the safety of construction cranes.

The 30-story-tall crane, with the capacity to lift up to one million pounds, collapsed at the refinery located in southeast Houston at about 2 p.m., said Jim Roecker, vice president of the refinery.

Officials have said the killed workers were in the "area" of the crane, but they are unsure if the workers were on or beneath the crane at the time of the accident.

Three of the seven injured workers were treated at the scene. Two workers, who sustained serious injuries, were transported by helicopter to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and the other two workers were transported to the hospital by ambulance, according to Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Omero Longoria.

The crane owners, Deep South Crane & Rigging, are known as one of the nation’s largest mobile cranes, with equipment 300 feet tall and a 400-foot bottom.

The main cause of the collapse is unknown at this time. Refinery officials are hopeful that one of the many security cameras in the area captured video that will help investigators to piece together what caused the accident, so this type of tragedy does not happen again in the future.

One of the workers that survived the accident said the impact of the crane hitting the ground was so strong it lifted him off the ground. He was injured by flying debris. “It was very, very loud,” said Michael Gabriel, as he was leaving Memorial Hermann Medical Center. He did not see the crane fall.

Another worker in the emergency room with Gabriel, who fell out of a bucket truck when the crane struck the vehicle, suffered broken ribs, broken wrists and a broken pelvis. He is currently conscious, Gabriel said.

The crane arrived at the refinery in pieces and was assembled over the past month for a major “turnaround,” in which sections of the plant are closed for maintenance or repair and then brought back into operation. The crane was planned to remove large drums from inside the coking unit. Coker units are used to convert cruel oil to petroleum products.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been notified of the accident and they will be investigating, Roecker said.

LynondellBasell is one of the largest refineries in the United States that processes high-sulfur crude oil. The company had recently announced it was about to start a full-scale turnaround of the crude distillation unit and coker at its Houston refinery. The work was expected to take up to seven weeks to complete.

“We are taking every measure to ensure that the injured employees receive the best medical attention possible. Our thoughts and prayers are with our employees and their loved ones,” said officials with Deep South in a statement.

At this point very few details are known about what actually happened and officials are working to gather information. That information will then be used to determine the root cause of the accident so it can be corrected to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring again in the future, Deep South officials said. “We will cooperate fully with the investigations that arise from this tragic accident.”

“We will provide information as it is gathered and verified,” the statement concluded. “In the meantime, we ask for your prayers and patience in this difficult time.”

Crane operators are not required to be licensed in 35 states, Texas is one of them. City officials earlier this year found that eight of 34 cranes across the city are controlled by uncertified crane operators.

OSHA requires annual inspections of cranes, but it is a self-policing mandate for crane owners. Federal law requires inspection reports be maintained by owners, but they are not required to be submitted.

Peter Brown, City Councilman, said crane regulations are long overdue, especially in cities that are experiencing new and unique construction. “It’s a public safety issue, and we’re too easygoing,” Brown said.

The city has been too lenient in setting and maintaining proper standards for safety and performance. As cities grow, so must safety standards.

Crane safety has come under fire in recent months following several deaths in a Miami crane accident and a New York crane accident.

In New York City, nine people have died in two crane accidents since March – a greater number than the total number of deaths than that of the previous decade.

In 2005 and 2006, Texas led the nation with 26 crane related fatalities, according to federal statistics.

An analysis by the AP in June, found that many cities and states have widely varying rules that govern construction cranes, while some have no regulations in place at all, instead relying on outdated federal guidelines that have not been updated in over 40 years and therefore are not up-to-date with technological advancements.

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