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Letters  

Crane safety concerns

I have followed the 2021 Kelowna crane collapse closely since it happened, and this letter will not speculate as to its causes.

I have built highrise steel and concrete structures as a general contractor for 30 years and have been involved to some degree with the installation, operation and removal of tower cranes on dozens of large projects.

I lived in San Francisco for 25 years. San Francisco had one of the worst crane collapses in U.S. history in November 1989. It was eerily similar to the 2021 Kelowna incident. Four construction workers and one member of the public were killed while the crane was being "jumped". "Jumping" a crane means either raising or lowering it without using an assist crane.

In the Kelowna collapse it was being lowered to be dismantled. Jumping a tower crane is well-known as the most sensitive and dangerous operation on any construction site, and requires careful planning, supervision, and training of all involved. For that reason, modern projects tend to avoid the use of self-climbing tower cranes unless absolutely logistically required for the project. The use of a secondary large mobile crane to provide full height installation and dismantling of the tower is much preferred in order to avoid jumping.

The San Francisco collapse happened on Nov. 28, 1989. A full and detailed analysis of the causes of the collapse was issued by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in May of 1990— five months later.

It is safe to say there were legal proceedings (resulting from) that case, both civil and criminal. The cause was determined to be that the crane had "slewed" (rotated) during the jump and overloaded the tower sections causing structural failure.

(The incident) led to California and OSHA issuing the most comprehensive crane regulations in North America. Highlights of those include professional surveyors' monitoring the “plumbness” of the tower during jumping, requirements for formal training and certification of all workers involved and continuous supervision by OSHA inspectors and the manufacturer's engineers.

Perhaps these things were in place at the Kelowna incident—we will have no idea until we see the report. Furthermore, (in California) the municipality requires operating permits that require that installation and removal of tower cranes take place on weekends and off-hour times, so as to minimize public exposure. Roads are closed and attempts are made to evacuate surrounding buildings where practical.

Installation and removal is nearly always performed by unionized ironworkers, who are highly trained and skilled. A general contractor would never allow this work to be performed in an ad-hoc manner, and the dismantling process is usually a six-figure cost.

I have not worked on a project in Kelowna, so I can't say how the contracting is handled here, but I am sure that will be part of the root-cause analysis.

How is it even conceivable a report on the Kelowna incident would take two years to complete and make public? We have as many tower cranes up in Kelowna as some much larger cities in the U.S. have right now.

Will another crane collapse before industry and the public can learn from (the Kelowna incident)?

Are they worried about contaminating a jury pool by the report being made public? I'd be much more worried about another crane coming down on their watch than worrying about the integrity of criminal proceedings that could take 10 years and result in a slap on the wrist at most.

While accountability is, of course, important, my opinion is the primary concern should be the health and safety of workers and the public, not criminal retribution.

Let the lives of the five men who dies (in the Kelowna crane collapse incident) mean something more.

John Collins, Kelowna



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