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Shedding Light on Construction Site Disasters

Shedding Light on Construction Site Disasters

Winfred Stafford, 79, was watching the ceremony of a newly constructed South Pointe church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A crane was lifting the steeple to the top of the building when it collapsed on top of Stafford's car, killing him. While the tragedy occurred this summer, making headlines around the country, it is but one of many, including several large cranes that fell in New York at construction sites over the past year.

"The vast majority of crane accidents are due to some manner of operator or human error," says Dr. Steve Smith, a principal engineer and group manager of the Washington, D.C. area office of Skokie, Illinois-based CTLGroup. Smith specializes in the performance evaluation and failure analysis of structural systems.

Are such accidents preventable? Any construction site can be a hazardous area if the procedures that are established within the construction area aren't carefully followed, according to Smith. "You could prevent by having properly trained staff or people that are following manufacturer operating instructions and the codes and regulations."

On July 14, 1999, three men were killed in a crane accident during construction of the ballpark, Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Smith notes that the accident occurred while Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was onsite approving the crane operation that day and the crane, easily the largest in North America at the time, was lifting a million pounds. "When it was all said and the investigations were done, it turned out they were just operating the crane in winds that were too high."

In Oklahoma City, Stafford was simply watching an interesting sitea church being topped off by a steeple. Perhaps because the project was relatively modest, there were no setbacks erected to keep the curious public at a distance.  "It's certainly good practice, as far as whether it's standard practice there isn't any one answer to that, unfortunately. These are the kinds of questions that each municipality is really starting to look at closely right now and especially when it comes to relatively small construction sites," says Smith.

As far as worship facility construction sites are concerned, Smith recommends that churches utilize an owner's representative to be an advocate on the construction site. "Churches are often in a particularly good position for that because they have a large pool of people with very diverse backgrounds that are brought together mostly to worship, but you have people from probably every profession in the community," he says. Barring a handy member, churches can gain peace of mind by hiring a local architect or engineer to look after their interests.

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