A view of the crane removal operation. Photo: NSTIR

As roaring winds strip the last leaves and powerful gusts send garbage cans rolling, how will all those construction cranes on the Halifax skyline fare? 

Memories of a crane crashing into a downtown apartment during post-tropical storm Dorian are fresh in people’s minds. They’re nervous memories, considering there are approximately 26 tower cranes “blowin’ in the wind” at construction sites scattered across the Halifax Regional Municipality. 

Fortunately, the collapse of that 68-tonne crane in 2019 occurred on a wild and stormy Saturday afternoon when most people were hunkered down at home and the building it toppled onto wasn’t occupied, so no one was injured. 

The province paid out $2 million to clean up the mess, while the lawsuits brought by businesses and individuals whose lives were disrupted continue to wind through the courts. 

The construction crane was operated by Lead Structural Formwork of Moncton. (See video aftermath of crane collapse.)

Although winds aren’t expected to reach the 97 km experienced two years ago, that crane was built to withstand winds up to 160 km an hour. It wasn’t expected to fail and crash onto the adjacent 13-storey apartment building, which was under construction by WM Fares Ltd. 

The cause of the crane’s sag and fall — as identified in a report carried out for the Department of Labour by BMR Structural Engineering — was a defective weld in the lower portion of the crane, 6-9 meters above the base. Other flawed welds were also identified in the tower.

Despite that finding, BMR determined the crane was properly prepared for the storm and that it was set in what’s referred to as “weather-vaning mode,” where the brakes come off and it rotates according to the direction of the wind.

The investigation found the company operating the crane had complied with the required inspections and procedures mandated by the Canadian Standards Association and the NS Labour Department. 

In the conclusion, the Labour Department promised to review the findings with crane operators and “engage industry to develop and implement an industry-leading code of practice or standard for enhanced tower crane mast and boom weld inspection, testing, and maintenance in Nova Scotia.”

Walking the talk?

A check with the Nova Scotia Labour Department Monday reveals that no “code of practice” for inspecting welds on booms and masts has yet been implemented. 

The report’s findings were reviewed with crane operators, according to Khalehla Perrault, spokesperson for the Department of Labour. Perreault said; “requirements for cleaning, inspecting, maintaining and repairing tower cranes were communicated”, and, “a third meeting is to take place before the end of the calendar year.”

Perrault says the Canadian Standards Association will release a revised safety code for tower cranes next year. Don Ehler, the Chief Inspector of Crane Operators for Nova Scotia, has a seat on the CSA’s Technical Committee for Tower Cranes (a first for this province). 

The Halifax Examiner asked what action was taken by the Labour Department to ensure cranes are inspected and safely secured prior to the wind and rain forecast for Monday night through Tuesday. Perrault said the NS Labour Department has 36 Occupational Health and Safety officers, all of whom were busy contacting construction sites across the province — those with and without cranes — “to make sure all cranes, equipment, and debris are safe and secure.”

In an email, Perrault also set out the process crane operators are supposed to follow on construction sites. She said before a tower crane can be placed in service, all structural elements must undergo a non-destructive test as well as a load test. “An engineer is required to certify the crane for use based on these tests,” she wrote. “After the crane goes into service, it must be inspected daily (italics by the Examiner). All structural components must be inspected monthly by a competent person. For example, a crane operator who is licensed by the Labour Department’s Technical Safety Division. An engineer must certify the crane annually.”

Over the past 12 months, Perrault says the Labour Department has issued two fines to crane companies for non-compliance.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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