Volume 45, Issue 2 (March 2000)
A Review of Crane Deaths in Jefferson County, Alabama
Cranes are machines used to move heavy objects. Cranes are operated by crane operators, usually working in conjunction with an assistant guiding the movements of the crane from his vantage point outside the crane. Few jurisdictions require that crane operators be either licensed or certified. We conducted a retrospective study of those dying of crane-related injuries in our jurisdiction during the 16 years from 1981 to 1996. All ten decedents were male, and the manner of each death was accidental. Neither ethanol nor drugs of abuse were detected in any case. Eight of the ten decedents died due to blunt force injuries, one due to mechanical asphyxia, and one due to thermal burns. Investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) led to fines ranging from $80 to $2700 in six of the ten cases. Nationwide, electrocution is the most common cause of crane-related death, but no crane-related death in Jefferson County was caused by electrocution in our study. The absence of electrocutions was due to the planned, routine suspension of power to electrical lines in the vicinity of a crane during the crane's operation, a practice saving an estimated seven lives. Nevertheless, human error or lack of planning was still responsible for most of the deaths in our study. In addition to careful planning and adherence to safety standards established by planning, we recommend the mandatory licensure and certification of professional crane operators and the assessment of larger fines by OSHA for safety standard violations.