Limiting Equipment Damage Costs
Sonetics | November 15, 2016

Incidents that involve equipment damage range from scraped paint to catastrophic collapse. When an investigation is necessary, the same question always arises: “Could this have been avoided?” More likely than not, the answer is yes. Human error, poor maintenance or ignored regulations crop up as the most frequent culprits.

What can be difficult to comprehend—for heavy equipment operators and owners, contractors, developers, insurance companies and even litigators—is the extent of costs associated with equipment damage. When your equipment is damaged, repairing or replacing it is only part of the cost. Factor in production or service interruptions, downtime for safety investigations, workers’ compensation and litigation, injury claims and fines and you have a strong business case for improving communications to help avoid equipment damage.

Costs of a Catastrophic Collapse in NYC

Let’s examine the crane accident in Lower Manhattan to illustrate the ripple effect of equipment damage. This tragic accident took place on February 5, 2016, and resulted in one death and three injuries.

On a windy day in Lower Manhattan, a crawler crane collapses. The crane is destroyed and its collapse causes two city blocks of severe damage. Work stops immediately to allow for investigations and cleanup. Cleanup includes not only removing the crane, but also repairing leaks in water and gas lines and removing parked cars crushed by the crane.

Initial findings blame high winds for the collapse. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio responds by enforcing a 1968 regulation that cranes must stop operating when winds exceed 30 miles per hour. Fines for failure to safeguard crane equipment will begin at $10,000 instead of the previous minimum of $4,800.

On March 18, one of the victims, Thomas O’Brien, 73, of North Easton, Mass., files a complaint with the city comptroller’s office, the first step in a planned $30 million lawsuit against the NYC Department of Buildings.

When investigations wrap up six months later, blame shifts from high winds to the crane operators. Too many mistakes were made while rushing to lower the boom out of the wind.

A group of construction trade organizers and unions sues the NYC Department of Buildings to nullify the regulations limiting crane operation in winds higher than 30 miles per hour.

The repercussions from an accident that lasted a few seconds will reverberate for years to come. How much productivity and revenue has been lost as a result of this single accident? The costs of the damage to the crane pale in comparison.

Rarely does equipment damage occur at this scope and under such public scrutiny. It’s an extreme example of the real costs of equipment damage. For all heavy equipment operators, it’s a cautionary tale. You may ask yourself, “If I’d been in the cab of that crawler crane, could I have avoided the incident altogether?”

Compensating for Human Error

Heavy equipment operators aren’t perfect. Neither are spotters or mechanics or supervisors or project managers. Which is why we build redundancies, checks and balances into processes. For heavy equipment operators, these redundancies are only worthwhile if they can be enacted in real time, which is when communication becomes priority number one.

The real costs of the NYC crane collapse are still adding up, by the millions. We can only speculate that if the crane operator had better communication then maybe the boom could have been lowered sooner. Or maybe someone on the ground crew could have told him to keep the boom angle above 75 degrees. Those kind of precise, emergency maneuvers are more likely to be successful if uninterrupted, real-time communication is in place.

Sonetics team wireless systems lower risks associated with human error that can lead to accidents. Hands-free, full-duplex communications between a heavy equipment operator and workers on the ground allow operators to follow precise directions and make corrections quickly. If an operator is making a mistake, then a spotter or other crew member can tell them instantly without the transmission being blocked by interference or clipped by a coworker speaking on the same channel.

Manufacturers build heavy equipment to be treated roughly. They expect it to be subjected to brutal treatment. That’s what it’s for. But every machine has its limits, and sometimes the operator in the cab isn’t the first person to realize that the machine is being pushed beyond its limits. If that happens, only an attentive ground crew and real-time communication stand between the operator and costly equipment damage.