Register/Subscribe

Crane company in fatality has history of citations

A company whose crane collapsed at a construction site on Sunday, killing one person, has a history of citations and penalties from federal and state workplace safety regulators.

San Leandro, California-based Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. supplied the tower crane and operator to the project as an equipment rental provider, according to a company statement issued on Monday that expressed sadness over the incident. The crane was not in service when it collapsed during a storm on Sunday. 

“Bigge mobilized personnel to the site and is fully cooperating with the independent, third-party, investigating authority (the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) who have yet to determine the cause of this accident,” Randy Smith, corporate counsel, said in the statement. “When authorized by OSHA, the tower crane will be removed and examined.”

In 2013, Bigge Crane was cited by OSHA for nine serious violations and a proposed penalty of $56,700, after an employee working for another company was fatally injured and eight other workers hurt when a crane collapsed at the Arkansas Nuclear One Power Plant in Russellville, Arkansas, according to an agency statement. But the citations were reduced to four serious violations with a combined $28,000 fine following a formal settlement conference with the agency, according to OSHA records.

In March 2016, the company was issued two other-than-serious violations and a proposed $8,000 fine following an October 2015 incident in which an employee was fatally injured when a motorist veered into the shoulder of an interstate as he was adjusting the load at the rear of his trailer and struck him, pinning him between the car and the trailer, but the citations and fines were deleted after a formal settlement conference, according to OSHA records.

Bigge Crane is contesting nine serious and other-than-serious violations carrying proposed penalties totaling $56,525 following an OSHA inspection in August 2017.

The company also contested a safety citation issued by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health in April 2014, alleging failure to follow manufacturer’s procedures and for not having an assembly/disassembly director present during the erection of a fixed tower crane as required by California’s Code of Regulations. But an administrative law judge for the California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board affirmed the citation and a “reasonable” $10,000 penalty in an order dated May 16, 2018.

“The evidence supports a finding that Employer failed to ensure that a Division-licensed tower crane certified or surveyor or safety representation for the distributor or manufacturer of the fixed tower crane was at the site during erection, climbing and dismantling operations to ensure that such processes and operations were performed in accordance with manufacturers recommendations and applicable standards or orders,” the law judge stated. “The violation was properly classified as Serious. The violation was properly characterized as willful.”

Separately, the company contested a citation issued by Cal/OSHA after a January 2014 inspection alleging a serious violation of the California code for failing to ensure that a load did not contact any obstruction during lifting operations. An administration law judge denied the company’s appeal and upheld the citation’s serious classification, imposing a penalty of $2,000.

In March 2017, the appeals board affirmed the law judge’s decision to deny the company’s motion to exclude witnesses based on its argument that the presence of two division inspectors had a “chilling effect on witness testimony at the hearing” and that these two inspectors were not experts, according to appeals board documents.

Section 379 of the appeals board’s rules of practice and procedure “does not give a party the right to have witnesses excluded, but only allows a party to move to exclude them,” the appeals board continued. “The language of the Board’s rule uses the word ‘may,’ which signals that the Appeals Board retains full discretion in this regard. Furthermore, under the Board’s regulation, it does not matter whether the witness is an expert or a regular witness; ‘any witness’ may be excluded at the Board’s discretion. Employer’s claim that the ALJ abused its discretion by not excluding the witnesses lacks merit because the record indicates she appropriately acted within her discretion.”

But the appeals board also reversed the law judge for construing obstruction in a way that the word includes the object being assembled by the crane itself.

“If the Board were to accept the Division’s interpretation of the word, then the cab and tower portion of the crane being assembled would constitute an ‘obstruction’ to its own assembly,” the appeals board stated. “Such an interpretation is contrary to the common-sense definition of the word. The Board agrees with the Employer that an obstruction in this set of facts is not present. An obstruction cannot logically be the same part of the object that is being erected to which a component is being added. Interpreting the word as the Division suggests would lead to absurd results: the object the mobile crane was assembling would itself be an obstruction.”

A company spokesperson could not be immediately reached for additional comment.