A $2 million crane’s topple from a construction barge into the waters of Virginia’s Willoughby Bay was due to the lack of a spotter to help the operator navigate, according to a federal investigation.
Because there was no spotter present, the operator drove too far aft and the cable system securing the crane to the barge failed, an investigation report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states.
Cable securing system failed
The crane and construction barge were being used to work on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project near Norfolk on Feb. 8, 2022.
A centerline cable system was used to secure the 320-ton crane to the barge while also allowing it to move back and forth across the deck. This system was required by OSHA and was intended to keep the crane from rolling off the barge.
Company policy required a spotter to be used any time the crane was traveling but there was no spotter present on Feb. 8.
No injuries, crane a total loss
Despite the lack of a spotter, the crane operator began moving the crane aft. As he moved the crane, the operator heard a noise and thought it was from the crane’s steps getting hung up on something. However, when he looked for the aft stop mark to get his bearings, he noticed he’d moved the crane beyond the mark.
As he felt the crane begin to tip over, the operator attempted to move the crane in the opposite direction in an effort to save it, but it was too late. When the crane fell, the operator jumped from the cab before the machine fell into the bay.
There were no injuries, but an oil sheen was visible on the water. The crane was recovered but was a total loss, costing the company $2 million.
No processes in place to ensure worker compliance
NTSB investigators found that as the crane began its move across the barge, the centerline cable became disconnected from one of its brackets. This caused the cable system to fail and allowed the crane to travel too far aft. The cable system wasn’t strong enough to meet OSHA requirements and this combined with the lack of a spotter allowed the crane to be driven off the barge.
The NTSB found that the company didn’t know its workers weren’t following the spotter policy because they didn’t have processes in place to ensure workers were complying.
To avoid a similar incident, the NTSB recommended that all repositioning of cranes on construction barges should be adequately planned and risk assessed, with all personnel involved clearly identified and their duties understood.