The largest mobile crane in the nation collapsed at a Houston refinery Friday, killing four contract workers and injuring six others, a company vice president said.
The crane, capable of lifting 800,000 pounds, fell over at a LyondellBasell refinery in southeast Houston. The casualties were in the area of the crane, but officials still weren’t certain whether they were on the crane or under it, said John Roecker, the company’s vice president for refining.
“It’s a very sad day for us at the refinery,” Roecker said during a news conference outside the complex gates.
Three of the injured were treated and released at the scene, said Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Omero Longoria. Two severely injured workers were taken by helicopter to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center hospital and another injured worker was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
The crane, whose exact dimensions were not immediately available, belonged to Deep South Crane & Rigging. It was delivered in pieces and assembled at the refinery about a month ago. It was brought in to remove large drums from inside a coking unit whose roof had been cut off to allow the crane access, Roecker said.
The crane was not scheduled to do any work Friday. Roecker said, however, that the crane’s engine was idling after it hit the ground.
Roecker said he’d seen the crane lift 800,000 pounds during a test run last week, and described it as the nation’s largest mobile crane.
“This is a traumatic experience for all of us. We have to focus on the safety and health of our employees,” Roecker said.
About 1,500 contract workers are employed at the refinery, he said.
Mattie Graham stood with her husband, Deep South worker Horace Graham, at the plant near the scene of the accident.
“I’m thinking about their families. He could have been there today,” she said, gesturing to her husband.
Largest in the world
The Houston refinery is one of the world’s largest for processing high-sulfer crude oil. The facility itself covers about 700 acres along the Houston Ship Channel at the city limits of Houston and Pasadena.
Lyondell Chemical, a U.S. company, and the Dutch firm Basell were rivals until they announced a $12.1 billion deal last July to create one of the world’s largest chemical companies.
East Texas Crane Academy president Joe Bob Williams, whose company has certified crane operators for Lyondell, said it’s unusual for such cranes to fail because of the number of people involved in their maintenance.
“It’s really odd for these cranes to have any issues because there are so many eyes looking in,” Williams said.
There has been a rash of recent crane collapses in the last few years. The most recent crane collapse occurred in May in New York City. That collapse killed two workers and damaged several buildings.
There has been an increase in the scrutiny that crane companies endure during setup and operation of their cranes to avoid this type of incident. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be searching for answers in what caused this incident, along with several other state and federal agencies.