NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In the wake of last month’s deadly construction crane collapse in Seattle, the CBS 11 I-Team is shining the light on crane safety in North Texas.
Texas leads the nation in fatal crane accidents with nearly four times as many deaths as any other state from 2011-2015, according to federal labor statistics.
The CBS 11 I-Team found since 2012, eight North Texas workers have been killed in crane accidents. Several of the deaths at the time of the accidents were never reported on by the media as construction companies often work to keep these accidents out of the public’s eye.
In an effort to reduce serious and fatal injuries, OSHA is targeting Texas with increased safety inspections.
8 North Texas workers killed in crane accidents since 2012
In the past seven years, the I-Team found at least eight workers in North Texas have been killed in crane accidents.
2012 – On the campus of the University of Texas Dallas a construction crane collapsed as it was being dismantled killing workers Terry Weaver and Thomas Fairbrother.
2013 – William Campbell of Alvarado was also killed when he was struck by a crane, according to OSHA records.
2013 – An employee at a metal supply company in Mansfield was killed when, according to OSHA records, he was struck by a falling sheet of metal coil.
2015 – Gerardo Saldivar was working on a crane in Dallas when, according to federal records, he got caught between the boom and the truck. He was crushed to death.
2017 – In Commerce, a large piece of granite being held by a crane fell and killed worker Renee Morris.
2017 – Burl Strickland was working at a crane manufacturing plant in Royse City when he was stuck by a crane beam and killed.
2017 – A crane tipped over in downtown Dallas killing worker Isidro Morales.
While no pedestrians in North Texas have been killed by cranes in recent years, it is not just workers who are at risk.
In 2016, a crane toppled along I-30 in Arlington closing down the freeway for hours.
Another fell last year in a busy University Park neighborhood where a school was under construction.
OSHA targets Texas with more crane safety inspections
All of these crane accidents in North Texas caught the attention of federal safety officials which is why OSHA put the construction industry in Texas on notice by renewing an enforcement
initiative in the region targeting crane operators.
The program increases crane inspections with the goal of reducing serious and fatal injuries.
According to federal report, OSHA found the risk of work-related injuries “may be far greater than the elevated risk reported by employers.”
In 2017, OSHA conducted 77 crane inspections in the Texas region (which also includes work-sites in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico). During those inspections, federal officials found 65 violations – 71% were serious, willful, or repeat.
Fort Worth attorney Dwain Dent is personal injury lawyer who specializes in crane accidents. He said the problem is the penalties for those violations are not stiff enough.
“OSHA plays a vital part but they are just handcuffed,” he told the I-Team.
In every fatal crane accident investigation in North Texas since 2012 at least one serious violation was issued by OSHA but in more than half of the cases the I-Team found the fine for each death was less than $10,000.
“If you hold them in the public light in a courtroom before a jury and the press and they can hear what the facts are, then that company is not only subject to the monetary fine of a jury verdict but the public scrutiny,” Dent explained. “That solves the problem much better than anything a government could try and regulate.”
However, the I-Team found construction companies involved in lawsuits often find ways to keep crane accidents quiet by settling out of court and requiring victim families to sign “secrecy agreements” forbidding them from speaking about the accident.
Dent said he had seen this happen multiple times.
“They don’t want anybody to know the facts of the incident or what the family recovered,” he said.
New regulation requires crane operators to be certified
In Texas, one does not have to have a license to operate a crane but, as December 2018, the federal government requires all crane operators to be certified.
Certification varies depending on the type of crane one operates but most certification courses are two days to three week and range in price from $2,000 to $6,000.