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Hurricane Sandy crane drama unfolded while the world watched

Sometimes it takes an unforgettable image to properly convey the importance of worker safety to the public. Black and white photographs of children in sweatshops helped to inspire child labor laws during the industrial revolution. And images of beam walkers perched high atop skyscrapers under construction heightened the American public's awareness of construction industry dangers possibly for the first time.

Amidst the chaos of Superstorm Sandy, one image broadcast worldwide brought renewed attention to the potential devastation of construction accident fallout. As New Yorkers are quite aware, a 150-foot crane boom positioned roughly 75 stories high on 157 West 57th Street twisted and partially snapped in 80 mph winds as Sandy struck the coast.

Before the boom could be secured, days passed during which it threatened to break-free and topple 1,000 feet onto a particularly busy stretch of Midtown Manhattan. As a result, surrounding blocks had to be evacuated for nearly a week. Crane accidents are preventable catastrophes even when a single worker is injured by them. In this case, untold numbers of workers and everyday New Yorkers were in danger of the boom's potential fall until the area was evacuated.

In response to the high-profile crane boom safety crisis, safety advocates and regulators are questioning whether more should have been done to secure the boom before the storm hit. Workers and passersby already risk danger when heavy machinery is being used at a construction site. Known hazards coupled with inadequate storm preparation nearly caused a catastrophe in Midtown. However, it seems that this injury-free incident may inspire greater attention to construction site safety in the days leading up to and aftermath of future storms.

Source: New York Times, "As Crane Hung in the Sky, a Drama Unfolded to Prevent a Catastrophe Below," Charles V. Bagli, Nov. 7, 2012

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