OSHA recently announced it intends to update its
30-year-old crane standard. Operator training heads a list of
changes expected in the revised rule.
It sounds like a classic "man bites dog" story: Industry
representatives persuade a somewhat reluctant OSHA to update a
regulation. But that appears to be precisely what happened in July,
when OSHA took the first step toward revising its construction
safety standards for cranes and derricks (29 CFR 1926.550).
The agency announced it would begin accepting nominations for a
negotiated rulemaking committee and that it expects the committee to
draft a proposed rule within 18 months of its first meeting.
Perhaps even more remarkable for a safety community often stymied
by contention, stakeholders appear to agree on what they want in the
revised OSHA rule.
Industry Pushes for a New Crane Rule
From computers to hydraulics, crane technology has changed a lot
since 1971, while OSHA's crane rule has not. The agency's existing
regulation relies heavily on a late 1960s vintage of the American
National Standards Institute (ANSI) B-30.5 standard for crawler
Unlike a good wine, an ANSI standard does not generally improve
with age. That's why the American Society of Mechanical Engineers,
ANSI's standards developing organization for B-30 standards,
continually updates the standards for crane manufacturing,
operational procedures, inspection requirements and operator
In its announcement that it would update the crane rule through
negotiated rulemaking, OSHA pointed to the progress made by the
crane workgroup of the Advisory Committee for Construction Safety
and Health (ACCSH) as evidence of the ability of stakeholders to
reach agreement (see "Crane Rule Update: ACCSH Workgroup Prepares
the Field" on page 36).
A mixture of genuine concern for safety and economic
self-interest appear to be driving the desire of crane
manufacturers, construction companies and others for an updated
"We want people using our cranes to go home at night," explained
Michael Brunet, P.E., manager of the boom group at the Manitowoc Co.
With headquarters in the small Wisconsin town that gave the company
its name, Manitowoc is one of the largest remaining American-owned
crane manufacturers. Users of Manitowoc cranes applaud the
manufacturer for its dedication to safety, and the company is deeply
involved in the push for an updated OSHA standard. "We have a vested
interest in seeing that cranes are operated safely, given the amount
of litigation that can follow a crane accident," commented Paul
Pukita, manager of structural design at Manitowoc.
John Buck, the company's corporate safety director, noted there
are three components to crane safety: crane design, the operating
environment and the operator's control. "As crane manufacturers, we
can only control one-third of that equation," Buck said.
Construction companies also have reasons for wanting an updated
OSHA standard. Douglas Sidelinger, equipment supervisor for Cianbro
Corp., a Pittsfield, Maine, heavy construction contractor, pointed
out that conflicts between OSHA's old rule and the more up-to-date
industry consensus ANSI B-30.5 standard can pose dilemmas for
construction firms. For example, OSHA does not allow crane
operations within 10 feet of an electrical power line, but the ANSI
standard, Sidelinger said, provides a process that ensures safe
operations inside 10 feet.
"Some jobs are impossible unless you can work within 10 feet of a
power line," he said. "The conflicts between ANSI and OSHA put users
in the middle."
Dale Daul, director of construction risk control for The St. Paul
Cos., a commercial property and casualty insurance provider with
headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., put his finger on another reason
many companies may welcome an updated OSHA standard. "A crane is by
far the most dangerous and costly piece of equipment on job sites.
If it fails, you're lucky if several people don't die in the
process. Yet, normally contractors do a very poor job of managing
Consultant Brad Closson, vice president at the San Diego office
of the North American Crane Bureau, explained that losses stemming
from a crane failure do not stop with the incident itself. "Personal
experience tells me that after a crane incident, productivity drops
dramatically," said Closson, who spends much of his time doing crane
accident investigations. "Everyone is focused on the horror of what
has just occurred."
In the aftermath of a major crane failure, incident rates go up
because instead of paying attention to their safety, workers are
preoccupied. Supervisors and managers are besieged with these
smaller problems as well as the consequences of the disaster, which
may include lawsuits, bad press, higher insurance premiums or the
loss of insurance altogether.
"This is why a crane incident is the last kind of problem you
want to have, and why, after a crane incident, most companies have a
stand-down period to address all the issues at once," Closson said.
Safety or Seat of the Pants?
Stricter training requirements and improved understanding of how
cranes work, by operators as well as everyone else up and down the
crane management food chain, head most people's list of what needs
to change in the new OSHA standard.
"Crane operators used to operate by the seat of their pants. You
could feel the crane start to tip and then compensate," Sidelinger
said. "If you overload them now, they'll break, the load will come
down, and you can have a major catastrophe on your hands."
From a safety perspective, perhaps the most fundamental change in
crane technology over the past three decades has been the shift from
mechanical cranes with brakes and friction the operator could "feel"
to hydraulic cranes.
The existing OSHA standard does not specifically address
hydraulic cranes because they were rare in the late 1960s. The
prevalence of hydraulic cranes today is one reason operators no
longer can rely on past experience and must be trained to understand
the capability of the crane they are using. An OSHA official pointed
out that the inspection of a hydraulic crane differs from that of
the older machines, so this is another area the agency expects the
new rule will take up.
OSHA also must tackle the management of cranes, according to Dave
Ritchie, a risk control technical specialist for The St. Paul Cos.
and a member of the ACCSH work group.
"Typically, the first person who makes a decision about cranes is
the estimator, and then the superintendent and project manager," he
said. "Many times, they don't have sufficient crane knowledge to
make the right decisions."
Closson said that whenever there is a crane on site, "everyone
involved should be afraid because it takes so many people executing
correctly for it to work."
The two most common crane management problems, according to
Ritchie, are not setting up the crane properly and supervisor
intimidation of operators. "Some dinosaur supervisors are
intimidating operators to do things they know are wrong."
For example, to prevent the machine from tipping, all mobile
cranes have load charts. According to Ritchie and other experts,
however, to get the job done quicker and cheaper, many supervisors
ask operators to overload the crane.
According to Brunet, earlier standards granted operators the
right to refuse a lift they judged unsafe, but if an operator
refuses to do a job today, the supervisor will find someone else to
do it. "That's one of the things we're trying to get back into the
standard - the right to refusal," said Brunet, who is a member of
the ACCSH work group.
The Difference Between Bartenders and Crane Operators
The growth in the number and complexity of attachments is a
second key development in the evolution of crane design over the
past 30 years, according to Paul Pukita, manager of structural
design at Manitowoc Co. While customers demand lighter cranes with
greater reach and lifting capacity, the new technology also requires
more of operators and managers if these cranes are to be used
Pukita cited luffing jibs as an example of how new designs have
outgrown regulations. "A jib used to be a relatively short
attachment with a nominal capacity of 20 tons." Modern luffing jibs
have a separate hoist that moves the jib up and down, greatly
expanding its reach and capacity but adding to potential safety
concerns. "Now you can vary the boom angle and the jib angle, so
operation is much more complex for operators," he said.
While the physical demands of crane operation have become easier,
the mental requirements have grown, experts said. "Now cranes
operate with a joy stick, like video games," commented Joe Collins,
crane supervisor at Zachry Construction Corp., a heavy industrial
contractor based in San Antonio, Texas. "Today's cranes have
on-board computers, so that requires an additional amount of
training as opposed to relying on the skill and judgment of the
Cranes are so sophisticated that some experts believe OSHA should
require the certification of all operators by the only accredited
certification training program, the National Commission for the
Certification of Crane Operators (CCO). Although the current crane
rule does not require operator certification, CCO's program is the
only one recognized by OSHA as meeting operator competency
"CCO's position is that operator qualifications are not
adequately addressed in the current OSHA rule," said Graham Brent,
COO executive director. "Operator qualifications are addressed
better in (ANSI standard) B-30.5."
With the exception of a few states and municipalities, no special
license or certification is required of crane operators. It is not
clear how operator training and certification will be dealt with in
the new OSHA standard, but there appears to be consensus that the
failure to spell out operator qualifications is an unacceptable gap
in the current rule.
"I find it interesting," Collins said, "that my barber and
bartender need licenses, but my crane operator does not."
Crane Rule Update: ACCSH Workgroup Prepares the Field
When OSHA's negotiated rulemaking committee begins to meet -
probably in early 2003 - it may find that a subcommittee of OSHA's
Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) has
completed much of the groundwork for revising the crane and derrick
"We're on an accelerated schedule.We'll come out with a document
by the end of the year so the negotiated rulemaking committee will
be able to pick it up and run with it," said Michael Brunet, P.E., a
member of the ACCSH subcommittee, or workgroup. Brunet is manager of
the boom group at Manitowoc Co., a Wisconsin crane manufacturer.
For the past two years, Brunet, along with other representatives
from industry, labor, the construction industry and safety
organizations, have worked to develop a list of changes they would
like to see in OSHA's crane rule (29 CFR 1926.550).
Brunet said some of the issues he wants see on the workgroup's
final report include:
- Operator certification,
- The operator's right of refusal to do a lift,
- How close to power lines cranes may operate, and
- Crane inspection recordkeeping.
Other ACCSH subcommittee members confirmed that operator
qualifications need to be addressed in any new OSHA crane standard,
though it is not clear whether there is sufficient support for a
national licensing or accredited certification requirement.
"One of the biggest issues on the ACCSH working group is whether
the revised standard should be a one-stop standard," Brunet said.
"Right now, it can be hard for small contractors, who have to deal
with dozens of different standards referred to in the OSHA rule."
One-stop shopping and a user-friendly rule are important to
another member of the workgroup, Emmett Russell, director of safety
and health for the International Union of Operating Engineers.
Pointing to the success of an earlier negotiated rulemaking
committee - the steel erection standard - Russell appeared as eager
to improve the format of the crane rule as its contents.
"Any worker or employer can go to the steel rule and have a good
understanding of what is expected of him or her," Russell said. "The
value of negotiated rulemaking is that because stakeholders wrote
it, all stakeholders can understand it."
But according to another member of the working group, Zachry
Construction Corp. crane supervisor Joe Collins, "We were hopelessly
shot down [by OSHA] on one-stop shopping, because the standard would
be too large."
ACCSH has to approve the final document produced by the
workgroup. Even if this happens, the negotiated rulemaking committee
will not be bound to follow it. Nevertheless, in the relatively
small world of crane safety, the workgroup's final product should be
a good gauge of where the rulemaking committee is headed.
by James L Nash (email@example.com)
This article was
brought to you with permission from Occupational Hazards, Penton
Media Inc. (http://www.occupationalhazards.com).
All rights reserved. Duplication in any form without permission,
including photocopying or electronic reproduction or dissemination,