D.C. Orders Crane Inspections

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 31, 2008

D.C. officials ordered safety inspections yesterday of the approximately 40 construction cranes licensed to operate in the city after a crane collapsed in New York, killing two workers and causing extensive damage in the second such calamity in Manhattan in recent months.

Don Masoero, chief inspector for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said city officials began visiting construction sites yesterday to make sure that cranes have proper permits and that safety records at the sites are accurate and up to date.

Masoero said construction companies will be required to hire independent, third-party engineers to inspect the cranes. A DCRA spokesman, Michael Rupert, said the agency wants the inspections completed within five days.

After the collapses in New York, Rupert said, "there are going to be some nervous residents and nervous visitors in the District. So, as a precautionary measure, we want to go through and reaffirm that these cranes are safe."

The crane collapse yesterday on Manhattan's Upper East Side was similar to an incident that occurred March 15, also on the East Side, in which seven people were killed. A New York building inspector later resigned after being criminally charged with lying about inspecting the crane.

Because building heights in Washington are limited by city law, Rupert said, most construction cranes are less than 100 feet high. New York, by contrast, is a city of skyscrapers. The crane that collapsed yesterday was being used to build a 32-story residential tower. The collapse in March occurred at the site of a 46-story construction project.

"One of the benefits of having building height limits in the District is that a tragedy of this proportion is highly unlikely in the District," Linda K. Argo, DCRA director, said in a statement.

Maryland and Virginia officials did not order immediate crane inspections.

Gordon Hickey, spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), said that unlike the District, Virginia "does not have statutory or regulatory authority to go out and inspect cranes" unless there is a complaint to federal authorities. "The state is encouraging employers of people who are running cranes to go out and do inspections. That's about all we can do."

After the collapse in March, Maryland officials convened a task force to study crane safety. The group met twice and was beginning to outline new measures when a crane in the process of being disassembled near Annapolis collapsed April 30, killing construction worker Denis Umanzor, 44, of Silver Spring.

The incident is being investigated, and no safety citations have been issued.

"After the Annapolis accident, we started bringing in the construction industry and crane operators and trying to come up with a consensus," said Roger Campbell, assistant commissioner of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency.

The agency's commissioner, James R. DeJuliis, is a former crane operator, Campbell said. He said one major proposal that DeJuliis and other officials are reviewing would require state certification of crane operators. The task force is also considering new procedures for assembling and disassembling cranes and for rigging loads.

In the District's permitting process, Rupert said, all facets of a crane's assembly, from the planning phase to the installation, are subjected to close inspection by city officials or third-party engineers. But "once they're up and running," he said, cranes are not routinely re-inspected.

"If there's a complaint or an incident," such as the collapse in New York, "then we might reinspect them," Rupert said.

Staff writers Jerry Markon, Miranda S. Spivack and William Wan contributed to this report.

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