A man operating a crane was critically injured yesterday after being crushed by falling machinery while working in the same Annapolis development where a man was killed in a similar accident last year.
The incident occurred as state regulators prepare for a public hearing on stricter safety standards for crane operators.
The 46-year-old man was sitting in a compartment of a crane that was preparing to lift heating and cooling units onto the roof of a gym in the Annapolis Towne Centre when a pulley and other parts tumbled down about 7 a.m., fire officials said.
"During the setup process, something went wrong and some components fell, smashing in the operator's compartment," Anne Arundel County Fire Department spokesman Division Chief Michael Cox said.
Other employees extricated the man, whose name was not released, and he was rushed by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Cox said.
The accident comes 10 months after a piece of a crane being dismantled fell on Denis Umanzor, 44, as he worked on a condominium a stone's throw from the gym. Umanzor, an employee of Miller, Long & Arnold, was trapped 200 feet in the air and had died by the time rescuers were able to reach him.
Crane safety drew national scrutiny last year after two highly publicized fatal accidents. In March, a 20-story crane smashed into a New York City townhouse, killing seven people. Less than two weeks later, part of a crane plunged 30 floors into a two-story Miami, Fla., home, killing two people and injuring five.
After those incidents, James R. "Ron" DeJuliis, labor and industry commissioner for Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and a former crane operator, formed a crane task force to draw up stiffer safety regulations.
DeJuliis said the stricter standards are designed to minimize the likelihood of accidents such as yesterday's.
"We could train every single person involved in the industry to the maximum. ... But there's mechanical failures, there's weather conditions, there's human error. Unfortunately, there's probably always going to be accidents, but I would think that the required training would dramatically reduce accidents. It just makes everybody more aware of what their responsibilities are."
"We wanted to ensure that everybody was trained to meet all the national standards that are prevalent in the industry," DeJuliis said. Maryland does not have standardized training regulations for crane operators, he said.
Yesterday morning, dozens of workers scrambled over pieces of the crane that were sprawled behind the future site of the 24-Hour Fitness center. The Maryland Department of the Environment was called in to clean up hydraulic fluid that spilled from the crane, and inspectors with the state's office of Occupational Safety and Health were investigating. On the side of the crane, the operator's mangled compartment sat askew.
Jeff Scammell, a glazier working on the windows of a nearby building, said that he hurried to the accident scene after hearing sirens and helicopters. "It looked like something snapped and it crushed the little carriage," he said. "The whole arm dropped and there was hydraulic fluid everywhere."
It was unclear how many people had been working on the crane, which has an estimated capacity of 100 tons, or what caused it to malfunction. Employees of Maxim Crane Works, a Bridgeville, Pa., subcontractor that owned the crane, declined to comment and directed all questions to a lawyer.
The company was cooperating with authorities and was conducting its own investigation into the accident, attorney Scott Phillips said, declining to comment further.
Maxim, which has 35 locations around the country, was fined $14,000 and cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for two serious violations in a May accident in Missouri, government records show. A 23-year-old construction worker was killed and three others injured when the boom collapsed while it was being lowered, according to news reports.
The $400 million town center in Annapolis includes luxury condominiums and apartments, offices, a Target store, restaurants and boutique shops that were recently completed or are still under construction. Calls to Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, which is developing the property, were not returned yesterday.
An expert in cranes said that accidents such as yesterday's are rare but can be caused by inexperienced, overworked or hurried workers.
"In this day and age, the crane is a very structurally safe piece of equipment," said Donald O'Rourke, the Eastern Regional Director of the Crane Certification Association of America. "But the more that you don't maintain the crane and don't have experienced workers operating it, the more likely it is that it's going to topple down."