The most common types of crane accidents are
- when the crane makes contact with live power lines,
- when equipment or the load strikes a worker,
- when workers or operators fall from the crane,
- when the crane tips over, and
- when the boom or cable fails.
The injuries sustained in these crane accidents are often fatal. Survivors often sustain traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and/or amputations.1
What are the most common causes of crane accidents?
Crane accidents are relatively rare worksite incidents in the construction industry. Because crane accidents do not happen very often, it is difficult to compare the frequency of their cause.
Moreover, many crane accidents are not reported to
Without a full list of the accidents, it is impossible to accurately predict what is most likely to cause one.
However, one study found that, of the 571 fatal crane accidents that happened between 2000 and 2009, the most common causes were: 2
|Cause of crane accident||Percentage of all fatal crane accidents between 2000 and 2009|
|Worker struck or caught between equipment||12.8%|
|Worker struck by crane load||12.6%|
|Crane tipped over||8.8%|
|Worker crushed during assembly or disassembly||7.2%|
|Boom or cable failure||6.3%|
|Worker struck by an object other than the crane’s equipment or load||5.8%|
Non-fatal crane accidents may have different causes. These incidents, however, are less likely to be reported to OSHA. Nevertheless, they often lead to serious injuries.
If a crane’s boom or load line makes contact with a live electrical wire, the current can run through the equipment and anyone touching it, causing a potentially fatal electrocution. This is especially dangerous for the riggers who are holding on to a tagline. However, crane operators who try to leave their cab can also get electrocuted.
Electrical shocks are most common when the crane is mobile. Mobile cranes are smaller and frequently used in tight settings where overhead power lines pose a threat. If the operator is not careful, they can swing the boom and hit one of these lines.
Crane accidents often lead to fatal falls. This can happen in construction situations where the worker is high off the ground, usually securing steel beams for the upper floors of a building. If the worker is not safely harnessed or tied off and the crane jostles the beam they are on, workers can lose their balance and fall.
Worker falls can also happen during the assembly or disassembly of tower cranes.
Workers struck by crane equipment, load, or other object
Crane accidents frequently involve workers getting hit by the crane’s equipment, the load being lifted, or by something else. Most of the victims in these cases are the crane’s riggers.
Many of these accidents involve loads that are uneven or that have strange weight distributions. These loads require special precautions and rigging. If there is a rigging failure and one of these loads is not properly attached to the crane, it can fall on the workers, below.
Other accidents happened when the crane operator moved the boom before the load was unhooked. This can pose a threat to all of the workers near the spot where the load was supposed to be detached.
Cranes can also tip over. Overturning cranes pose a severe threat to both the crane’s operator and to the workers on the ground.
Mobile cranes can tip and cause an accident if they are being used on uneven ground and the operator moves the crane. Especially if a load is attached, the weight of the crane can make any ground condition more significant and dangerous than it appears.
The unstable ground can also give way with the weight of heavy loads or the crane’s counterweight. This can cause a crane collapse. Workers beneath the crane can suffer severe injuries if the crane falls on them. The crane operator is likely to be seriously hurt, as well, after falling from such a height.
Assembly or disassembly of the crane
Tower cranes that are assembled and disassembled on the job site also pose a threat to construction workers. At these stages of the construction project, workers are often climbing up and down the crane to bolt the crane parts into place. If a worker slips and is not adequately harnessed, they can fall off the crane.
Failure of the boom or cable
If the crane’s boom collapses or if its cables fail, the load can drop. In addition to the load, the boom or the cable itself can pose a danger to the workers and outriggers beneath the crane. If the load is heavy or if the hoist has pulled it high off the ground at the time of the failure, the injuries that these accidents produce can be fatal.
Who can be held liable?
There is a wide variety of people and parties who could be held liable for a crane accident injury. Which one is actually liable will depend on the specific details of the crane accident.
Common parties who may be liable on negligence and/or product liability grounds include the:
- construction company,
- property owner or management company,
- crane manufacturer,
- crane operator and/or rigger (especially if they are not certified by a nationally-accredited crane operator testing organization),
- maintenance worker responsible for inspecting or fixing the crane, or
- construction project’s architect or engineer.
In many crane accident cases, the cause was human error. Personal injury law allows victims to use vicarious liability to hold construction companies liable for their employee’s negligence on the job. This can happen if, for example, the worker:
- is inexperienced using heavy equipment,
- has not been adequately trained in crane safety and crane operation,
- performs improper crane maintenance, or
- fails to operate the crane competently.
Victims may also be able to recover workers’ compensation for their injuries if they happened within the scope of work on the construction site.
What damages can I get?
If you were injured in a crane accident, you could be entitled to reimbursement for your:
- medical bills,
- lost wages,
- loss of future earnings, and
- pain and suffering (often the biggest expenses).
If you are the spouse of someone injured by a crane, you can seek damages for loss of consortium. Or if your family member died in a crane accident, you can bring a wrongful death claim for funeral expenses as well.
Just on April 26, 2023, a jury awarded the family of a victim killed by a 2019 crane collapse in Dallas, Texas, more than $860 million in damages. The majority of it was for mental anguish and loss of companionship.3
Contact an attorney
A skilled crane accident lawyer from a reputable law firm can help. By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer, victims can pursue the compensation they need and deserve.
- OSHA Cranes & Derricks in Construction
- Center of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) – Cranes Fact Sheet
- National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO)
- See, for example, Crane Collapse: Seventh body found: Seven dead, 24 injured in NYC crane collapse, ABC7 NY (March 18, 2008); Corey Charlton, Horrifying moment that mosque shakes seconds before crane collapse which killed 111 in Mecca disaster, Daily Mail ( ).
- Zhao, “Cause Analysis of U.S. Crane-Related Accidents” (2011). Fatal Occupational Injuries Involving Cranes, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas Crane Accident Problems Persisted in 2021, Engineering News-Record.
- Daniel Tyson, Dallas Jury Awards More Than $860M in Crane Collapse Case, ENR (April 27, 2023).