Crane Industry Groups Push for National Standards

June 9, 2008

In the wake of three construction crane accidents in the past three months that claimed 11 lives, industry groups on Thursday called for nationwide safety standards.

An industry council agreed on a set of standards in July 2004 and recommended them to the Department of Labor, but the proposal has languished within the department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration since then, the groups said.

“It cannot be overemphasized that the time for action is now,” said Bill Smith, president of NationsBuilders Insurance Services, which provides insurance to crane operators. “National uniformity of standards is essential and government must expedite the process.”

The proposed standards include a requirement that all crane operators obtain licenses, either under state programs or from accredited groups.

Fifteen states currently have similar rules, including New York, where two of the recent accidents have taken place. Florida, where the third accident occurred, doesn’t require certification but is one of five states considering doing so, according to Graham Brent, executive director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.

Smith said he has learned that the proposed rules, which also cover crane design and construction, have been sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review, which will take 30 to 90 days. The public will then comment on the rule for another 12 to 18 months before it can be issued.

Sharon Worthy, a Labor Department spokeswoman, referred questions to OMB. A phone call to OMB was not returned.

“Any accident that occurs in our industry is of great concern to us, but the tragic loss of life is particularly troubling and completely unacceptable,” said Joel Dandrea, executive vice president of the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, which represents 1,300 transportation and industrial machinery companies.

Dandrea also said his group has formed a task force that will develop a set of construction crane “best practices” for contractors.

OSHA’s existing rules for workers who operate cranes have not been updated since 1971, though the agency acknowledges modernized standards could help prevent future accidents.

The Labor Department in May estimated there are as many as 82 fatalities annually associated with cranes in construction, and said a more up-to-date standard would help prevent them. Most crane accidents are due to wind or operator error, experts say.

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