By Julie Shapiro
Two construction workers landed in the hospital after the second accident in two days at 450 Washington St. Work is temporarily suspended at the site, where Jack Parker Corporation is constructing a 15-story residential building.
In the first accident, last Friday afternoon, a 200-foot crane partially collapsed while lifting a load that was too heavy. Debris scattered across the site, but no one was hurt.
Then, Saturday evening, as workers dismantled the crane, part of it swung down and hit one worker on the back and another on the leg, sending them to St. Vincent’s Hospital, according to the Buildings Department. One was released that night and the other was released Sunday, said Robin Dolch, spokesperson for Jack Parker.
A Fire Dept. spokesperson said the injuries were both serious, but did not provide other details.
Andy Neale, who lives on West St. near 450 Washington St., heard the crane collapse Friday, which sounded like metal scraping against concrete. He looked out his window and saw people running away from the site and debris littering the ground.
Outside, the atmosphere was one of gratitude: Because of the cold, steady rain, the foreman let workers go home early, shortly before the collapse, Neale said.
“By the grace of God it didn’t happen half an hour earlier,” Neale said. “A lot of the debris fell right where the workers were working.”
The collapse also sent the crane’s cable whipping across the site, damaging wooden forms used for pouring concrete, Neale said.
Eva Lindemann heard the noise of the crane tearing from her office on the fifth floor of 135 Watts St., where her desk faces the site. She immediately bolted away from the window, and later her entire office was evacuated.
“This brings up a lot of scary feelings,” Lindemann said, alluding to 9/11.
This wasn’t the first accident to befall the project. Last February, a fire broke out while the abandoned garage and auto shop on the site were being demolished. No one was injured and the Fire Dept. never determined the cause.
Another witness to Friday’s accident, who did not want to give his name, said the building where he works and several others were evacuated Friday because the Fire Department feared the crane would collapse further. Everyone was allowed back in by midnight.
The witness said the building’s construction has been progressing “very, very fast” seven stories have gone up in four to five weeks and he was concerned about the expertise of the workers. “With all the development happening across the city, things get stretched thin in terms of labor and experience,” he said.
The first accident occurred because the crane was lifting a load of lumber that was too heavy, said Buildings Department spokesperson Carly Sullivan. When the lumber was 5 feet off the ground, the crane buckled. D.O.B. plans to issue violations to Tim O’Conner, the crane operator, and Cross Country Construction, the equipment user, for operating the crane in an unsafe manner.
Meanwhile, a stop-work order is in place with the exception of work needed to make the site safe until Cross Country and general contractor Gotham Construction Company meet new safety requirements.
Gotham did not return a call for comment and Cross Country could not be reached by press time.
Neale sees the problems with construction safety as a citywide issue. “Safety should be turned up,” he said. “I just don’t think the Buildings Department is overseeing buildings properly.”
Patricia Lancaster, buildings commissioner, made several suggestions for safety improvements at a City Council hearing Monday. The hearing was convened after an accident at the Trump Soho condo-hotel killed a construction worker last month. Lancaster’s testimony focused on concrete operations at high-rise buildings. The number of accidents at high-rise construction sites is growing at a faster rate than the number of sites, she said.
To hold general contractors and concrete contractors accountable, Lancaster wants to require them to register with the city, so the city could revoke that registration if the contractors have repeat violations. Currently, the Buildings Department registers 29 trades, but contractors are not among them.
Lancaster also wants to require a concrete safety manager to oversee operations on high-rise construction sites. Also, buildings that are 15 stories or 200 feet tall currently require a general site safety manager, but Lancaster will reduce the cutoff to 10 stories or 150 feet, encompassing more projects.
Still, the recent spate of accidents is making some residents nervous. Looking toward the future, Neale said, “I just dread to think I can’t even imagine more deaths and injuries of workers. It’s really bad thinking about it.”
With reporting by Tequila Minsky