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Crane Rigger Acquitted in Fatal ’08 Collapse

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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A crane rigger has been acquitted of all charges in the 2008 collapse of a tower crane in Manhattan that killed seven people and injured two dozen.

William Rapetti, of Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., was the only person charged in the accident March 15, 2008.

Justice Roger S. Hayes of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, who heard the case without a jury, acquitted Rapetti and his company of a total of 40 charges, including manslaughter.

Investigators in the case determined that Rapetti, 49, had used four strips, rather than the eight specified by the crane’s manufacturer, to rig an 11,000-pound steel collar on a 22-story crane during the construction of a building. The collar fell and buckled the crane, which then collapsed into the building, killing six workers and a tourist.

That fatal incident, and another one two months later, raised questions about the Department of Buildings’ oversight and triggered new measures on crane safety nationwide.

In September 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Rapetti and two other contractors in the case, alleging a variety of safety violations.

Cited were Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., the crane’s erector; Reliance Construction Group, the project’s general contractor; and Joy Contractors Inc., the project’s concrete and superstructure contractor. Rapetti was cited for alleged problems associated with rigging the crane and lack of fall protection, while Reliance and Joy were cited for lack of fall protection, fire protection and other hazards unrelated to the crane collapse.

Rapetti Rigging was issued three willful citations with penalties totaling $210,000 for allegedly failing, among other things, to comply with the crane manufacturer’s specifications and limitations when erecting and raising the tower crane; to protect synthetic rigging slings from damage; to inspect the slings for damage or defects before use; and to remove a defective sling from service. One of the four slings used to secure the collar was later found to be worn.

“Ultimately, the crane collapse was a failure to follow basic, but essential, construction safety processes,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA’s area director in Manhattan.

Rapetti also was cited for fall hazards. OSHA said that employees working on the crane’s mast and at the edge of the 18th floor level and other areas lacked proper fall protection.

During Rapetti’s trial, his attorney argued that the contractor had been scapegoated for failings by other parties in the case.

The lawyer, Arthur L. Aidala, said in court that the developers had made a fatal mistake in deciding to dig a hole on East 51st Street for Con Edison wiring before the building went up, according to the New York Times. The hole meant that the crane, more than 300 feet high, could not be bolted to the ground, the Times reported Aidala as saying.

“You know what holds the crane up in this case, Judge?” Aidala asked the judge, according to the Times’ account. “Friction. Friction. Nothing, Judge. Nothing holds the crane up. It’s just sitting there.”

Rapetti still faces a number of civil suits in the case, as do construction companies, other contractors and the city.

Today (July 28), OSHA is scheduled to release historic new rules addressing the safety of cranes and derricks in construction. This new standard will replace one that is decades old.


Tagged categories: Access; Cranes; Fall protection; Health and safety; Laws and litigation

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