July 19, 2008 -- In a scene that has become all-too familiar, one of the nation's largest mobile cranes came crashing down at a Houston oil refinery on Friday afternoon, killing four workers. It was the latest of a number of fatal crane accidents.
"I stopped in my tracks and ... oh, we was in shock," said Stacey Davis, who witnessed the accident. "I knew [...] probably some people got killed, because it was so big. It was so loud."
The massive 30-story-tall crane toppled over at the LyondellBasell refinery in southeast Houston. It had not been scheduled for operation until next week, but its engine was on after it hit the ground.
Seven other workers were injured in the accident, and as of Friday night, two employees remained in the hospital with nonlife threatening injuries, according to a LyondellBasell press statement.
"It is really difficult," said one construction worker at the scene. "You know, you are tight with all of these guys. You work around them every day."
The crane's operator, Deep South Crane & Rigging, has an excellent safety record. It had been assembling the enormous crane for the past month and had conducted its first test lift on Thursday.
With an alarming number of crane-related deaths and crashes in cities from New York to Miami to Milwaukee, serious questions have been raised about the safety of the nation's construction cranes.
Texas is one of 35 states that does not require crane operators to be licensed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires cranes to undergo annual inspections, but it is up to crane owners in the state to police themselves.
Investigators are still determining the cause of the crash, as LyondellBasell workers struggle with the unexpected tragedy.
"It's a very sad day for us here at the refinery," said Jim Roecker, the vice president of Refining Operations for LyondellBasell. "Certainly our thoughts and prayers are going out to the families of all our employees."