Crane that fell into lake, killing its operator, was not secured to barge, investigators find

A Virginia construction company will pay $7,200 in fines after a crane fell off a barge, killing the crane operator.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) charged Plyler Enterprises Inc. with failing to secure the crane while a crew removed dock pilings in Smith Mountain Lake. Roger Dale “Peanut” Goad, 55, of Henry, Va., drowned when the crane slipped off the barge into 69 feet of water Oct. 5, 2009 (See PM #133).

The crew, which was dismantling a private dock, used a Link-Belt crawler crane LS-78 on a custom-made 40-foot barge, according to OSHA’s report, which Professional Mariner obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The 23.5-ton crane, which was designed for use on land, had a 35-foot lattice boom. The barge, made of half-inch structural steel plates, is 20 feet wide and 4 feet deep. It draws 22 inches of water with the crane on it. The crane was not chained or attached to the deck of the vessel, witnesses told OSHA.

“The Linkbelt crawler crane … was not positively secured to the barge to prevent and/or restrict movement of the crane during marine construction activities,” the report said.

The crew consisted of a tugboat operator, crane operator and a rigger who was on the barge. The OSHA report said the crane operator who died was the foreman and gave instructions using hand signals. On such an assignment, the small tugboat would push the barge toward the dock, and the crane would snap the piling at the base. The crane would use a chain connected to its hoist cable (or load line) to lift the 400-pound piling out of the lake bed. The tug and barge were also attached by a chain.

The crew had run into problems on that job before the fatal accident. When they tried to lift the first piling, the chain on the crane’s load line broke. They fetched another chain.

“The rigger stated he attached the second chain … but the piling didn’t break,” OSHA said. “The crane operator began putting tension on the crane’s load line. The tug operator stated (that) during the time the crane operator was putting tension on the load line, he was signaled to reverse the tugboat to assist the crane operator in putting more tension on the load line to break the piling.”

Within seconds, the crane began sliding forward. The rigger yelled for Goad to jump, but he didn’t.

“The crane operator appeared to be attempting to stop the crane’s forward movement. The crane kept moving forward, causing the front edge of the barge to dip into the water, and the crane slipped off the barge, sinking into the lake,” the report said.

“Both the rigger and the tugboat operator indicated (that) it did not appear the crane was secured to the barge,” the investigators wrote. “They did not hear a sound indicating anything used to secure the crane had broken.”

Goad’s body was recovered two hours later. Cause of death was drowning, the report said.

OSHA said investigators found no evidence of a broken chain or anything to hint that the crane had been attached or tied to the barge.

“The crane slipped off of the barge due to tension on the load line connected to the piling, and the reverse motion of the tugboat attached to the barge,” OSHA said. “Once the forward slipping motion started, and the reverse motion continued, the unsecured crane’s forward motion could not be stopped.”

Plyler Enterprises, based in Moneta, Va., does business as Plyler Homes and Docks.

OSHA charged Plyler with not securing the crane to the barge, not ensuring that the barge could withstand the load, not providing a load rating chart for the crane and barge and not ensuring that employees wore life vests during marine construction activity. The company allegedly failed to maintain records on annual and monthly inspections of a crane used in marine construction.

The company also was charged with not ensuring that the tugboat and two pontoon boats, which were used for transporting materials that day, were equipped with life rings with at least 90 feet of line. Plyler also allegedly didn’t ensure that someone at the work site had first-aid and CPR training.

The initial proposed fines totaled $15,750. The parties settled for $7,200, the report said.

Erik Plyler, president of the company, declined comment on the case.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff