OSHA fines Deep South $71,500 for Versacrane collapse

22 January 2009


Following an OSHA investigation, the US safety agency has issued a total of eight citations and a proposed penalty of $71,500 against Deep South Crane & Rigging following a TC 36000 VersaCrane collapse that killed four people in Houston, Texas on July 18, 2008.

The crane was working at a LyondellBasell refinery in Houston when the boom reached an unsafe angle, causing the crane to collapse backwards, killing two employees there, as well as two crane operators, OSHA said.

“Not only was the crane operator inadequately trained but the project superintendent did not ensure the crane did not reach hazardous conditions,” said Mark Briggs, OSHA’s area director for its Houston South Area Office. “If OSHA’s regulations and industry standards had been followed, it is possible this tragedy could have been prevented.”

There were six serious violations in the OSHA citations. (OSHA defines a serious violation as one where there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.)

The most costly citation, for $35,000, was for allegedly failing to provide the crane operator with specific training on the crane's operation, controls, load charts and safety devices, "which resulted in the crane being placed in a position to over-haul [overturn] which resulted in four fatalities." According to the citation, Deep South was previously cited for this lapse in April 2007.

When contacted by Cranes Today, Mitch Landry of Deep South said: "We're going to contest them all." He declined to comment further for legal reasons.

In the citations, OSHA contends:

The Versacrane's controls, including its drum hoist, swing brake, tag line hoist, boom limit bypass switch, gauges and horn were not labelled to indicated their function. The boom limit switch and Cranesmart anti-two block device were not checked prior to the start of daily operations. The employer did not ensure that the site supervisor made sure that the operator was qualified to operate this specific crane. The employer did not ensure that the boom stops on the crane were designed to withhold the boom when they are acted upon. The boom stops failed when the boom made contact with them; then the crane overturned. A cord was attached to the air conditioning unit in the cabin of the crane that was attached to the outriggers, exposing employees to electrical shock. Employees were using the outriggers, more than 14 feet high, as runways to travel to the cab of the crane. Load charts were not securely fixed to the cab; after the accident they were found on the ground after falling out of the cab. There were serious citations for failing to repair defective parts in two other mobile cranes working around the TC36000. There was also a citation for poor recordkeeping.

Customer LyondellBasell spokesman David Harpole said that it met with OSHA last week and was told that it would not be fined or cited for the incident.

He said that the accident put back the maintenance turnaround project by several weeks. Instead of using a crane the second time, contractors built scaffolding and took out the process units, called a delayed coker, from the side. He did not say what company carried out the work.