Safety Versus a False Sense of Security: Challenges to the Use of Construction Cranes

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The history of safety is, in part, the history of resistance to safety. From transportation and travel to sports and entertainment, the safeguards taken for granted were once too allegedly controversial or costly for companies to grant to consumers. Imagine driving a car without a seatbelt or being a passenger in a minivan without side-impact airbags or anti-lock brakes, or playing football without a helmet or riding a roller coaster without a shoulder harness. Imagine, too, pulling out of parking space without a rear-view camera, unable to see passing cars or pedestrians.

Cameras are now as common among compact cars as on the most uncommonly expensive sports cars and sedans.

And yet, the technology that earns drivers a discount on car insurance is the same or mostly similar technology that insurers refuse to cover elsewhere. The technologies that makes parallel parking easier or easing a car into traffic a cinch is considered an extravagance on construction equipment, despite the dangers crane operators face but cannot see, despite what workers on the ground can see but not forecast, despite what cameras can record and capture.

The dangers are both physical and fiscal, as an irreparable loss of life can result in irretrievable losses to a construction company’s bottom line, as an otherwise avoidable loss can cause an irrevocable loss in a court of law, as knowledge of a danger is often proof of liability. That is, if a construction executive knows a jobsite is potentially dangerous—and since the construction industry has a noted reputation for danger—it is hard to convince a jury to believe the opposite.

That does not mean executives are fault for their decisions, except to say that insurers should reward them for doing the right thing: for equipping construction cranes with cameras. The alternative is a huge payout by an insurer for a construction company’s negligence, certified by a legal verdict and tabulated in terms of compensatory damages and punitive damages.

If these verdicts proliferate, which is more a condition of timing than a conditional statement, construction executives will have three choices:

1. absorb the cost of installing crane cameras, thereby lowering the risk of injury or death;
2. forgo the cost of installing crane cameras, and hope neither an accident happens nor a catastrophe ensues; or
3. convince insurers to cover the costs themselves, which they will recoup in fewer payouts and more premiums.

It may take a camera for insurers to see the big picture, pun intended, because no reasonable construction executive can say that he did not know about the existence of visual safety tools like crane cameras. To wit, all else follows:

  • that awareness of the means to address an underlying danger may be worse than awareness of a danger in and of itself;
  • that the decision not to act, because the act is not covered by insurance, may cost an insurer a lot more than its adjusters can conceive; and
  • that that decision may leave an insurer without clients, because few if any clients can withstand multiple multimillion-dollar judgments against their survival.

Construction executives need to motivate insurers to embrace safety, rather than continuing to accept inaction as the safe course—as the only course—to doing business as usual. Do the math for insurers, which is ironic given the industry’s bias in favor of actuarial science, quantitative analysis and applied mathematics.

Make the case that safety technology is a good too great not to insure before lawyers file cases against construction companies, before construction companies file suits against their insurers, before bankruptcy beckons and insolvency is inevitable. Show that safety yields savings, both in money and morale, in which insurers receive fewer claims for reimbursement and reimburse less sizable claims. Strengthen job security for crane operators and construction crews in general, which requires arguments to insurers.

Let them see what occurs on a jobsite see every day – an increase in safety by way of increased use of visual safety technology.

Let them hear from the construction industry, too.

Let them listen to what contractors have to say, at the conventions they attend and the conferences they sponsor—leaving no doubt that contractors want an assurance—a verbal guarantee—that insurers offer policies that includes a discount or a rebate for purchasing crane cameras. That is the least insurers can do.

(You can also read this article at Construction Executive.)