The bulletin board that hangs in the Career Services Resource Center at the Oklahoma College of Construction is a constant reminder of the dangers of mobile cranes.
Nearly every morning, school administrators post a media story on the board about another on-the-job crane accident from somewhere in the United States, with body counts often noted in the headlines.
Thursday’s crane collapse in Oklahoma City, which resulted in one death, is the most recent example.
“There’s an accident worldwide almost everyday,” said Jerry McGinnis, college president. “But they can be avoided.”
According to Forster Barnes, the lead crane instructor at the Oklahoma College of Construction, about 50 percent of accidents can be linked to improperly trained workers.
“Most of these accidents can be avoided,” he said. “It’s a combination of being better prepared in the classroom and in training, and just taking your time in the field.”
Barnes said many of the workers involved in these accidents graduate from abbreviated three- or five-day programs, during which they can earn temporary certification.
He believes such rushed schooling can leave workers unprepared to both operate cranes and assemble them.
To remedy this, 15 states and six cities have passed legislation requiring workers to have crane-operating licenses, which require potential operators to pass standardized tests. The tests have both written and hands-on components.
But New York, Florida and Texas, where major crane accidents have occurred recently, don’t require such licensing. Neither does Oklahoma.
Barnes said that’s no coincidence. He believes if all crane operators received the training that students at the Oklahoma College of Construction receive, the bulletin board in the Career Services Resource Center would be a lot emptier.
The college requires students to take three- or six-week courses and to pass written and hands-on tests before certification is issued.
“These kids are prepared when they graduate from here,” Barnes said.
The college has been recognized as a national leader in safety and in almost every other major aspect of crane training. In 2005, the National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools, certified the Oklahoma College of Construction as one of only five member schools throughout the country — institutions that provide top-of-the-line training and job placement.
The school uses a magnetized board to track internal crane accidents during on-campus student training. Red magnets represent days without accidents; green magnets represent days with accidents.
“There’s rarely a green magnet – if ever,” said Gail McCraw, McGinnis’ secretary.
But six fatal crane accidents in the past five months have thrust all construction schools under a microscope.
In March, a crane collapse in New York City left seven dead. Ten days later, another crane collapse left two workers dead and five injured in Miami, Fla. Major accidents in Dallas and Houston also have made headlines, in addition to the tragedy that occurred Thursday in Oklahoma City.