Robert W. Cos, crane safety consultant

Former port worker founded company that handled all aspects of crane operation from training, maintenance to certification and accident investigations

March 08, 2013|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Robert W. Cos, a crane equipment safety consultant who raised awareness in the 1980s of the unsafe car practice called "clipping," died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at Stella Maris Hospice. The longtime Canton resident was 65.

Robert William Cos, whose parents owned John's Lunch on Pier 7, was born in Baltimore and raised on South Montford Avenue in Canton. After graduating from Patterson High School in 1964, he enlisted in the Marine Corps the next year.

He served in Vietnam during the war and had attained the rank of sergeant at the time of his 1969 discharge.

Mr. Cos returned to Baltimore and went to work as a crane operator for the Maryland Port Administration at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

He was president of Local 2801 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represented 106 workers, including 55 crane operators. He raised the issue of crane safety after two workers died when two giant cranes at Dundalk Marine Terminal were raked by heavy winds and wrecked in March 1976.

Mr. Cos had complained about crane operators being required to work 25 hours of overtime per week.

In 1978, he was given a three-day suspension after refusing to work any more overtime. He had worked 101/2 hours after working 16 hours the previous day.

"No way was I insubordinate," he told The Evening Sun at the time, explaining that he had clocked out and was "too exhausted to continue work."

He pointed out numerous safety violations that resulted in the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration issuing citations in 1978 for serious violations at each of the 13 cranes at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Eventually, Mr. Cos left the port and went to work full time as chief surveyor for Crane Operational Services Inc., a crane training, inspection, certification, maintenance and accident corporation that he founded in 1970.

"As a certified professional, he inspected thousands of cranes, hoists and material-handling devices of every type," said a son, Chad E. Cos, a lawyer who lives in Joppa.

"He is responsible for the development and presentations of hundreds of crane and rigging programs nationwide," his son said. "Throughout his career, my father was actively involved in the investigations of crane and rigging failures for all types of industry."

In addition to this work inspecting cranes and investigating crane failures, Mr. Cos remained in the forefront of training for operators and supervisory personnel for the construction, maritime, utility and mining industries and for government agencies throughout the country.

"He further testified as an expert witness in over 50 cases for both plaintiff and defense attorneys," his son said.

In addition to his professional life, Mr. Cos taught crane and heavy-equipment safety programs at the University of Maryland, College Park, Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville and Hunt Valley, and Frederick Community College.

In 1982, Mr. Cos learned about clipping when a teenage driver rear-ended his wife's 1982 Thunderbird. She was injured and the car was wrecked.

Clipping is when a damaged car is "clipped" in half and the front or rear is replaced with an identical undamaged front or rear from a salvaged auto.

After State Farm, the teenage driver's insurer, told the couple the car could be repaired for $3,250, they grew suspicious, because a dealership said the car was wrecked beyond repair.

Rather than have the car repaired, the couple sold it for $1,400, but the car did not end up in a junkyard.

Testifying before a State Insurance Division information hearing in 1983, Mr. Cos said, "Gentleman, I have found my car. It has been clipped." The car had been purchased by a South Carolina body shop from a Baltimore dealer.

Mr. Cos and his wife launched an investigation into the highly unsafe procedure and presented the results of their work to the state insurance commissioner.

"I've spent close to $70,000 fighting this and I'm mad — mad as hell," he told then-Insurance Commissioner Edward J. Muhl.

The couple had assembled stacks of documents, tape recordings and videotapes, and had interviewed scores of witnesses from all over the country.

Mr. Cos was able to prove that "body shops took unsafe shortcuts because insurance companies wanted customers' cars repaired at the lowest possible cost. He said shortcuts resulted in structurally weakened cars that may literally come apart or crumble in an accident," reported The Evening Sun in a 1983 story.

"Insurance companies refused to tell consumers that a car had been clipped. What came out of all of this was full disclosure. Body shops had to tell buyers that a car had been clipped," his son said.

While living in Fallston during the 1980s and 1990s, he was an active member with the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company, where he had been a firefighter, medic and rescue technician.

In 1992, he was named the company's EMS Person of the Year. He also had been a longtime American Red Cross volunteer.

Mr. Cos taught hundreds of students emergency first-responder training.

He was active in Democratic politics and in 1998 lost the Democratic primary for Harford County executive.

Mr. Cos and his wife moved to a home on Boston Street, where they had lived in recent years.

"He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nine months ago and worked to the end," his son said. "He was the toughest guy I've ever known."

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Connelly Funeral Home, 300 Mace Ave., Essex.

In addition to his son, Mr. Cos is survived by his wife of 42 years, the former Regina Fellmeth; another son, Matthew R. Cos of Canton; two sisters, Dolores Cos of Fallston and Viola Brennan of Scranton; and three grandchildren.

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