A load of wooden building frames dangles over a street in Sandy Springs on April 29.
A load of wooden building frames dangles over a street in Sandy Springs on April 29. (Photo John Ruch)

A heavy load of wooden building frames dangled from a crane over traffic on a Sandy Springs street April 29. Hoisting a load over an open street is a move the crane’s owner says should not happen, and various construction industry guidelines discourage it.

But in the patchwork world of localized construction codes, officials say, that lumber lift broke no legal rules in that specific spot, the One City Walk project’s side facing Sandy Springs Place. But the same lift might violate city or state rules if it happened just a few miles away in Buckhead—or even just a few feet away on Roswell Road.

In the April 29 incident, workers had placed the load of wood in a travel lane of Sandy Springs Place without any special traffic control. As vehicles drove around the load, two workers connected it to the crane, which then lifted it over moving traffic and onto the job site. The crane is a rental from North Carolina-based Heede Southeast.

“I was like, ‘Holy…’ It’s not the best feeling,” said Heede General Manager Jason Kenna about seeing a photo of the lift. “Hoisting loads over occupied streets is not a common practice,” he added, saying workers usually will stop traffic “so no one’s under the load.”

Kenna said it appeared the crane operator was working “in the blind,” meaning he could not see the load directly due to the angle and relied on “flaggers,” or ground workers, to direct him. Heede provides only the crane and the operator, not the flaggers, who are the general contractor’s responsibility, Kenna said.

“We’ll probably do a site visit and talk to the contractor to figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Kenna said.

Grant Stackhouse, CW’s executive vice president of construction, said that the tightness of the site requires lifts from the street at times, but that the company does not want loads passing over traffic. “That isn’t our policy. We want to do our best to not fly things over [the street],” he said.

Stackhouse said the site supervisor informed him that traffic had been blocked during the April 29 lift, but acknowledged he had not directly witnessed it. Stackhouse said the supervisor has been instructed to emphasize the need for traffic control during crane lifts.

While the crane and contracting companies are taking action, the city of Sandy Springs probably would not, because no specific rules cover the situation, said city spokesperson Sharon Kraun.

“Our current code does not cover ‘means and methods’ as it relates to cranes and construction within the city,” Kraun said, adding that the state code the city borrowed from doesn’t, either. “However, our building inspectors are able to take action if they witness activity that they believe is unsafe or presents a life safety issue.”

One City Walk is also bordered by Roswell Road, a state route where crane operations have different rules. “If GDOT was overseeing this work…we would not have any vehicles moving under our crane, period,” said state Department of Transportation spokesperson Annalysce Baker.

On state routes, even moving the crane’s arm over the street requires a “right of way encroachment” permit, said Baker. And hoisting a load over the road would require a traffic control plan involving stopping vehicles “until the load went from Point A to Point B. Nothing should be under that load.”

The city of Atlanta has similar permit requirements, said spokesperson Jewanna Gaither. “Public safety is always our top priority,” she said in an email. “All construction activity in our public right of ways, to include material handling and equipment therein, requires a right-of-way construction permit and any associated needed sidewalk, lane or street closure permits to ensure protection of the public.”

The cities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody do not often have projects using the large tower cranes like the one at One City Walk and do not have specific crane-related construction codes, city spokespersons said. Both cities do require permits and traffic control plans for construction use of a public street’s travel lane.

Dunwoody in 2014 issued special easement permits for tower cranes at the new State Farm tower under construction at Hammond Drive and Perimeter Center Parkway. Michael Smith, Dunwoody’s public works director, said those permits were not about carrying loads over the streets, but simply giving permission for the crane’s arms to pass over public right of ways. The city considered it a property-rights issue, not a construction code issue, he said.

Dunwoody city spokesperson Bob Mullen said the city does require all construction projects to follow “federal and state requirements, guidelines and best practices.”

The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which governs employee safety issues, has a standard that broadly suggests cranes avoid lifting materials over workers, “consistent with public safety,” said Lindsay Williams, a spokesperson for OSHA’s southeastern regional office. But OSHA does not have jurisdiction over general public safety, he said.

Shane Adams, president and CEO of Crane Safety Associates of America, a crane inspection and operator training business in McDonough, Ga., said that a project with a crane should have a “lift director” who supervises the path of travel for the crane’s loads. Adams said that path should meet voluntary industry standards from the American National Standards Institute, including one that simply says: “The operator should avoid carrying loads over people.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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