From the New York Times–
March 17, 2008, 3:10 pm
That Falling Crane . . . By the Numbers
By The Editorial Board
A crane fell at a construction site on the East Side of Manhattan on Saturday, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The accident gave urban dwellers, who often have a gallows humor about walking underneath large cranes and elaborate scaffolding, one more thing to be worried about.
A few data points:
Height of the crane: 22 stories
Weight of the crane “collar”: 12,000 lbs. (est.)
Number of people killed: 7
Number injured: 24
Number of buildings crushed into rubble: 1
Number of buildings evacuted: 17
Explanations for how this could happen: 0 (so far)
Of course, that was written just a few days after the crane collapsed. Since then we have had several explanations, though no definitive answer (if one is even possible). But my concern doesn’t lie in determining the cause or even the responsible party. I’ll gladly leave that to the victims and the investigators they choose to employ. Instead, I’d like to point out that this is exactly the type of incident that people use as an argument for government. These people claim that we need government bureaucracies to protect us from such incidents. Well, we had all kinds of governments checks in place and this disaster still occurred. Let’s take a look at the layers of government that failed to protect us from this incident-
From ABC News on March 20, 2008-
A New York City crane inspector has been arrested for allegedly falsifying paperwork to show that on the same day a caller complained of unsafe conditions at the Manhattan work site where a crane later collapsed and killed seven on East 51street, he investigated and found no evidence of unsafe conditions.
The inspector, instead of going to the site, allegedly faked the paperwork to indicate that he did investigate the complaint, city officials said.
After initially stating he had conducted an inspection, he later admitted to investigators that he had not, officials said.
Edward Marquette, 46, has been arrested and arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on felony charges of falsifying records and filing a false report. The $52,283-a-year city employee faces up to four years in prison.
In other words, we pay this guy more than $50k/year to keep us safe and he simply ignores that job and fills out paperwork claiming he has completed it. After all, there aren’t that many accidents anyway, so why bother actually going out and doing the inspections? The experts on the construction site are not only better qualified but more motivated to keep things safe as it’s their lives and dollars at risk. Sounds like a pretty good use of $50,000 in stolen tax money, doesn’t it? Not to mention all of the non-salary expenses involved in running his office.
But wait, there’s more! From NewsDay on April 3, 2008-
A state employee has been removed from his job after investigators found he helped about 200 unqualified crane operators get certified in New York State between 1985 and 2000, according to an inspector general report.
The crane operators all failed a required practical exam, but were certified anyway by a state Department of Labor employee, Frank Fazzio, who was also on the Crane Operating Examining Board. Fazzio, investigators said, even issued himself a bogus certificate.
Fazzio has been suspended from his $82,000-a-year job, and the state suspended the licenses of 197 crane operators in November. Since then, 75 of those operators have re-taken their certification test and 38 passed.
The inspector general’s office found that state labor officials were notified about 42 improperly issued crane certificates in 2004, but failed to act. Also, investigators found that the agency’s testing controls were poor, noting that board members grade exams and decide appeals of their own decisions.
So the taxpayers are spending $82k/year so that someone who isn’t qualified to operate a crane can certify that 200 other people can operate a crane, despite the fact that they can’t. Brilliant! Thank God the government is their to protect us from such tragedies!
By now, you’re no doubt wondering what system could be more effective than government at protecting us from such disasters. The answer is a fairly simple one: the free market. In today’s world every construction company carries tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars worth of liability insurance to protect their businesses in case of just such an accident. One of the requirements of receiving that insurance is that the construction company gets all of the proper government inspections and permits.
Remove government from the picture and those insurance companies are still going to want inspections. However, instead of counting on the government monopoly inspectors they’ll use a private inspection company. That company will be sure to actually do the inspections (as opposed to simply filling out a form claiming its been done) because should it come out that no inspection was done, they will be held liable both personally and as a business. Unlike the government inspector who will not be paying a dime to those damaged by his laziness and ineptitude or the government (who will just steal more money from the citizenry as it has no funds of its own.). With an open market in construction inspection companies would be forced to stand on their prior history of th ework rather than simply being used becuase they’re part of the government.