(Photo Caption: High above Milwaukee, crane operator Jeff Maples maneuvers with care. [Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel])
Perhaps there’s no greater symbol of modernity and progress than the tower crane. From Bangkok to Dallas, these awe-inspiring construction machines give cities a sense of place and pride.
But there’s also a dark side to tower cranes – a sizable death rate that’s just now beginning to emerge. Though no “official” organization tracks worldwide tower crane death rates, recent studies indicate that tower cranes everywhere present serious risks.
According to towercranesupport.com, which was recently featured in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story, 780 people have died in tower crane accidents since 2000. The leading cause of their deaths was operational failures, followed closely by climbing accidents and assembly/disassembly mistakes. Weather also factored in as a major threat.
“The need arises to address safety issues in a culture that is slowly embracing these machines but has not yet been broadly exposed to such issues,” says a recent study in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. A related article in the Engineering News-Record notes that tower cranes are more common in Europe and Asia than in the U.S., though that’s slowly changing.
Tower cranes are anchored into the ground with concrete. They’re ideal for tight, urban spaces, which makes them popular in cities around the world. When they’re constructed correctly, the cranes themselves present relatively low risks to workers.
“Once they’re up and they’re maintained, they very seldom come down,” said tower crane specialist Terry McGettigan.
According to the Journal of Construction and Engineering Management, human error accounts for 91 percent of tower crane accidents.