What Are Some Common Causes of Crain Collapses

Any worker that has witnessed a crane collapse knows just how terrifying such an accident can be. In almost every instance, the machine gives way suddenly, sending tons of material spiraling toward the ground and the people below. Most of these accidents result in serious injuries and worker deaths, and they are nearly always preventable with basic safety checks. Even in Houston, where construction and refineries make frequent use of these machines, there have been several major accidents due to employer or manager negligence.

Perhaps the most memorable crane collapse in Houston occurred in July 2008. The accident happened at a LyondellBasell refinery and involved one of the largest mobile lifters in the world, a machine known as the Versa TC 36000. During the accident, the Versa TC 36000’s arm, also known as the boom, fell backward onto a group of workers, killing four and injuring several more. At the time, the incident was blamed on high winds, but an OSHA investigation determined a different cause. What OSHA investigators found was that the company in charge of the lifter, Deep South Crane, both operated and erected the machine in an unsafe way. Specifically, the angle at which the boom was operated was beyond safe limits, and Deep South failed to construct stops to prevent the boom from falling backward, another violation of OSHA safety regulations.


In most cases, the reason a lifter fails is similar to the ones discovered during the LyondellBasell incident. In short, it’s because the company or manager responsible for operating the machine did not observe safety procedures. One of the most pervasive safety violations is putting an unqualified operator at the controls of the lifter. Texas is among the 35 states that don’t require licensing from its operators. A 2008 city investigation in Dallas found that of the 23 lifters being used in the city, eight were manned by uncertified workers. This is a troubling trend because safe lifter operation requires precision and an ability to anticipate possible risks. Poorly trained operators are often goaded by managers and employers to use the lifter in ways that make a collapse much more likely.

These accidents may also be caused when pushing the lifter past its limits. Every machine can only handle so much weight before a boom and crane collapse is imminent. Some companies try to get around this by adding counterweights to the machine’s base to anchor it in place. However, this is hazardous and can put too much strain on the boom.

Workers on the ground must also facilitate the operation of the lifter by providing proper blocking during load lifting. Blocking is the process of using support to guide the load up as it is being lifted. This keeps the load from swinging unpredictably and putting undue lateral strain on the boom. If workers do not block correctly, the boom may twist or buckle as the load swings, increasing the chances of mechanical failure.

The risks of a crane collapse can be mitigated with observance of proper safety protocols, and when they are not, the results can be tragic.