How Common are Fatal Crane Collapses, Like the One in New York City?

How Common are Fatal Crane Collapses, Like the One in New York City?

Early Friday morning, a massive crane on a construction site in downtown Manhattan collapsed, killing one person and injuring two others. The collapse happened near West Broadway on Worth Street in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City, sending panic through the minds of locals and passersby.

While still under investigation, high winds are being blamed for the horrific disaster. Sources say the victim, 38 year-old David Wichs was sitting in his car, or had just exited it when the crane fell on him along with numerous other parked cars, ending his life.

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How common is an accident like this? Should we all worry and re-route our paths the next time our day takes us by an active construction site in the hopes of averting a tragedy?

In my opinion, yes and no.

Construction accidents can, unfortunately, be common events for workers in the building industry. The United States Department of Labor states that approximately 12 people die each day in in the U.S in construction related incidents. Even as I write, breaking news is telling of an extremely large section of scaffolding which just fell in Houston, Texas, trapping numerous people underneath.

But crane collapses alone, though highly dangerous, are less frequent. Between 1997 and 2006, there was an average of about 82 crane-related fatalities a year for a total of 818 crane-related deaths in that time, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And the chances of being involved in such a massive accident as a regular passerby are extremely slim.

That being said, obviously these events, while they should never take place, continue to happen. Why? Reports say that cranes tip over for a variety of reasons. Unlike today’s incident, historically, ones that fall over are more often of the smaller, mobile variety and they fall because of carrying loads that are too heavy.

Larger cranes tend to collapse when they are being assembled, taken apart, or extended and people who die working with cranes often do so by being electrocuted or struck by a moving load.

Recent statistics aren’t available but below are the top four states in terms of fatal crane accidents between 2003 and 2006:

  • Texas – 42 fatalities
  • Florida – 27 fatalities
  • California – 25 fatalities
  • Louisiana – 17 fatalities

So, what’s the moral of the story? I wish there was one. It’s impossible to ensure our personal safety at all times. We can’t stop going about our lives for fear of some rare and bizarre accident happening in our midst.

However, perhaps one can argue that there is room for safer practices in some industries that involve a regular degree of risk and that stricter rules should be in place for the use of extremely large pieces of equipment, across the board, especially when exposed to the public, or sitting in close proximity. 

David Wichs was a 38 year-old man who worked as a banker at the computerized financial trading firm Tower Research Capital in New York. He immigrated to the United States from Prague as a teenager and graduated from Harvard University with a degree in mathematics.



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