This is the "unedited" Article that appeared in the September, 09 International Cranes magazine 

The recent tower crane collapse incidents in Korea and the UK have once again brought to our awareness the death and destruction that can be caused by these towering behemoths. Although these two accidents resulted in the death of one operator and the other seriously injured, the casualties and property damage could have been much worse.

World-Wide Tower Crane Accident Statistics

2000 through 2009

Since 2000 - 872 Tower Crane Accidents causing over 668 Deaths along with countless injuries have occured.

Since 2009 there have been over - 116 Accidents, causing 44 Deaths!

As staggering as these numbers are, it may well be double due to the fact that many incidences are never reported on. This on-going research is the result of countless hours spent collecting hundreds of reports, pictures and videos to substantiate the findings. NOTE: These statistics focus specifically on construction related Tower Crane accidents only. They are for the most part serious incidences causing some kind of death/injury, collapse or damage.


42% = Erection / Dismantle & Climbing:

 “E / D” contributed to 26% and “Climbing” contributed to 16%. The primary cause for these failures is; not following manufacturer instructions.

27% = In Operation:

These are in-operation accidents where for a number of reasons; foundation & structural failures, electrical & mechanical malfunctions were the primary cause.

13% = Operator Error:

Not following manufacturer operation instruction.  Also, tampering with or knowingly operating crane with malfunctioning safety limits.

10% = Mother Nature:

Wind & Earthquakes.  Some of the “wind” related accidents may be due to the Operator not following proper shut-down procedures.

8% = Unknown:

Due to translation issues and or lack of information, the cause and injuries are unknown.


All too often, close-calls and unsafe practices seem to be the norm when working with tower cranes.  Ask anyone who has been in the field for 30+ years and they would tell you with a shrug, it’s the “same as it ever was”. What makes this puzzling is that tower cranes are not complicated structures; their basic design, erection and operating principals have not changed much in decades.You would think that after so many years of executing these high risk procedures it would be honed down to a science, but this quite often not the case. So why, with all the hard lessons learned do elementary mistakes continue to plague the industry no matter the culture. 

Rigging was used to hoist mast sections during this climbing operation instead of the manufactures hook device. Unfortunately improper rigging technique was used, i.e. both shackles were side-loaded.


Regardless of location; governmental regulators, independent safety organizations, and industry experts have held countless conferences over the past 10 years lobbying to improve standards. surprisingly the thrust of this attention has been focused primarily on the “operator”, mandating them to extensive regulations and responsibilities far beyond their job title, yet the statistics show operators are only responsible for 13% of accidents. Incredibly those culpable for the vast majority of tower crane accidents (69%) are held to much lesser standards. For the most part they are only “presumed” to be qualified based on hear-say, rather then documented - specific training, experience and licensing. For instance here in the U.S. a “Hairdressers” must complete 1,500 hours of training, be tested in both written and practical skills, and then be licensed. Yet few if any; erectors, inspectors and others who work with cranes could comply similarly that which is required of a Hairdresser!

Manufacturers should also be held accountable. Very few offer accessible Erection / Dismantling and Climbing training, and quite often their manuals regarding these procedures are unclear and deficient. It’s no wonder that those in the field resort to unsanctioned methods which are prevalent throughout the industry.  Another alarming issue is access to Manufacturer “Campaign Bulletins”. These manufacturer safety alerts are currently only distributed to crane vendors, who are reluctant to make known potential problems with the cranes their trying to sell/rent. In this day and age, manufacturers should be mandated to allow unrestricted access to these vital crane safety bulletins, especially to crane inspectors.


Interesting Facts:

The #1 cause of all accidents is simply -- “Not following Manufacturer instructions”.  

In most cases, those responsible for these - 872+ accidents had good reputations and were regarded as the best!

Over 25% of the deaths and countless injuries are of unsuspecting civilians (many children).

The men that have the dangerous job of cleaning-up these mangled, precarious accident sites are truly Heroes.


Although a large percentage of these 872+ accidents are concentrated in a few countries, the same circumstances or events that led to their failures are borderless - - stupid mistakes keep repeating like a broken record around the world. It seems that in the rush for development, ones proficiency has been replaced by sub-standards. Terms such as: “not ideal situation” and “common practice” have become acceptable reasoning to disregard engineered instructions. Gone are the days when one would attend a multi-year apprenticeship to learn a skill, this has been replaced by fast-food like accreditations or like in most areas, none at all. And to boot, those of significant authority seldom have the unwavering “character” to red-tag a situation no matter what the personal cost.

                  During this “climb” down operation, the climber frame was used to lower 2 tie-in collars!


Bottom-line, un-safe acts and/or conditions are the fundamental cause prior to any accident, and “someone” had chosen either through ignorance or negligence not to follow a sanctioned action. These chronic behaviors occur when those who are entrusted to execute these high risk operations are under trained, pressured and left unsupervised. Craning is high risk business and accidents will never be totally eliminated, there are just too many variables. However, the senseless, avoidable accidents can most certainly be minimized by following some meaningful standards:

1). Public safety is paramount.

2). Strict adherence to Manufacturer instructions.

3). Qualifications - “Everyone” should be thoroughly trained and experienced with the task at hand. 

4). Prudent planning - Beware; once a “schedule” falls behind, short-cuts are inevitable.

5). Dismantling – Assist crane should not exceed 75% capacity

6). Independent oversight - The last-line of defense is; on-site audit during high risk procedures.               


Too many times, we have seen the devastating results that a worst-case scenario can bring. It is my belief that lives can be saved, property damage averted and reputations preserved through “meaningful" regulations, strictly enforced. 


Terry McGettigan is a veteran in the crane industry with 35 years experience. Still active as a crane operator, he also works as an independent; inspector, technician and consultant. His extensive library of over 800 tower crane accident photo’s and video’s can be viewed at -