The Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and the Fukushima Nuclear meltdown disaster are all examples of how accidents can occur on even the safest job sites. While science, technology, and engineering have dramatically improved safety, many times, human error is to blame for rigging disasters. Because Rowe Transfer is intensely focused on safety, we thought it beneficial for our readers to cover some of the biggest rigging disasters and how they could’ve been avoided. Rigging is the act of using equipment such as cranes, jacks, slings, ropes, chains, and pulleys to prepare and move (usually large) objects. Because rigging often evolves lifting and relocating large machines and materials, the potential for disaster is always present.

The Big Blue Crane Accident

The big blue crane incident occurred on July 14, 1999, during the construction of Miller Park baseball stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Steel structural assemblers were using a crawler crane so distinctive that it earned the name “Big Blue,” to place a 450-tonne section of the stadium’s retractable roof into place when suddenly the crane collapsed killing three workers who were observing the lift from a suspended personnel platform. The collapse of the heavy lift crawler crane was caught on video by a safety inspector who was on site that day. Investigators later determined that while the weight of the load did not exceed the capacity of the crane, high wind gusts had not been factored into the structural integrity of the crane under that much stress. Three development firms were fined half a million dollars, and the family members of the deceased workers were awarded a $57 million settlement.

2018 Rockport, NY Rigging Disaster

In 2018 two workers at a national logistics and shipping company, XPO Logistics were fatally crushed by nearly 9,000 pounds of Corian, a synthetic granite material used in countertops. The workers were unloading the materials using a forklift from the back of a tractor-trailer when the disaster occurred. After an extensive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation into the rigging disaster, the company was initially fined for failure to follow labor laws on secure storage; however, this was later reduced to failing to document employee training. It’s likely that the workers may have accidentally caused the materials to topple over while working to transport it in tight conditions. However, the families of the victims have filed a civil suit claimed that DuPont, who shipped the goods, may be responsible for not properly securing the load.

2008 N.Y City Crane Collapse

In May of 2008, a construction company was building a 32-story apartment building in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The company was operating a crane to relocate building materials up to the twelfth floor and was among the estimated 250 cranes operating in New York City that month. Shortly before lunch, the turntable, a piece of equipment that is located just above the operator’s cab and below the jib (horizontal part of a tower crane), broke free of its 16 bolts and caused the crane to come crashing into the building. The rigging disaster caused the death of the crane operator and another construction worker, injuring another. The 200-foot-tall crane, a Kodiak, was one that was no longer produced and Building commissioners sought to immediately investigate the welding that was used to secure the crane’s turntable. The turntable’s primary purpose is to rotate the crane and was recently repaired before the disaster. IT was later determined that one of the owners of the cranes committed criminal negligence when they hired a Chinese company that cut corners to repair the crane’s turntable at a deep discount to the company. Had the crane operating company hired a more reputable, trusted company to perform the repairs or if the owners had listened to at least one worker’s complaints about the bolts securing the turntable being loose, this rigging disaster might have been avoided.

303 East 51st Street Crane Collapse

2008 was one of the deadliest years for construction accidents in New York, NY ever. Just a few months before the Upper East Side Crane collapse New York city experienced the worst rigging disasters in recent history. In March of 2008, a construction company was working on building an apartment complex on 303 East 51st Street in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in Manhattan. Crews were operating a luffing-jib tower crane to deliver materials to the upper floors when suddenly the 200-foot tall crane collapsed killing seven people and seriously injuring 24 people. The accident occurred as workers were attaching a new steel collar to the crane to anchor it to the 18th floor of the building and extend the overall height of the crane. Investigators narrowed down the cause of the accident to a piece of nylon that broke while hoisting six tons of steel. An NYC Department of Buildings official would later be charged for falsifying a report after it was determined that they failed to inspect the structural integrity of the crane and then created a fake report stating no safety issues were present.

Vietnam Gantry Crane Collapse

When safety inspectors or engineers take shortcuts or fail to adhere to safety issues, rigging disasters can occur. This happened in July 2008 when a large container gantry crane collapse while it was being erected. The rigging disaster killed seven people and seriously injured one survivor. Gantry cranes are the massive cranes used to load and unload shipping containers at shipping ports. The crane was so enormous that it required two 130 ton crawler cranes just to erect it. During the erection of the crane, engineers made a fatal error in the sequence of construction which caused the deadly disaster.


These disasters teach us a few things about rigging and safety on the job. Firstly, anyone operating heavy machinery used to move heavier loads should ensure that all equipment has been adequately inspected via the OSHA regulations and that everything is in working order. Never ignore safety concerns brought by employees that a piece of machinery may need maintenance or repair. All hoisting equipment including rope, chains, and cables should also be inspected regularly. Workers should also take great care not to overload the weight limits of the machine that they are working with and should take environmental concerns such as high winds into account.

According to the OSHA’s 2015 numbers, nearly 14 people are killed in construction accidents in the US PER DAY. The leading causes of these deaths are falling, being struck by objects, electrocution, and when individuals are caught in between materials or equipment. Heavy machinery carrying large loads are hazardous which is one of the reasons that OSHA enforces restrictions on their use, maintenance and upkeep, and modifications.

As you can see by this handful of rigging disasters that even rigging professionals have trouble completely eliminating accidents and disasters on the job. Make sure that the rigging company you hire has a solid safety track record and that is experienced in the safe handling of heavy materials and shipments: contact Rowe Transfer for assistance with your biggest moves. We can be reached via phone at 888-377-7693 or online through our contact form.