Construction safety, including safety of crane operations, is a priority for David Michaels, the chief of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Michaels, who became assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health last December, signed a voluntary agreement on May 17 with the National Center for Construction Education and Research, for crane-operator certification--the fourth such program to receive formal OSHA recognition since 1999.

Before moving to the top OSHA post, Michaels was professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University¹s School of Public Health and Health Services. Earlier, he was the Dept. of Energy's assistant secretary for environment, safety and health. After the signing ceremony with NCCER at Dept. of Labor headquarters, Michaels spoke with Tom Ichniowski, ENR's Washington bureau chief.

Why is this [crane operator certification] agreement important?

Construction safety is a major focus at OSHA--60% of our inspections are construction sites. Most of the fatality investigations that we undertake are actually on construction sites.

David Michaels

And we know that there are far too many opportunities for workers to be hurt or killed in construction, and, particularly in the last few years, we¹ve seen a sobering number of fatalities associated with cranes.

And our staff is working very hard with organizations such as this one [NCCER] to develop a set of standards and to implement training requirements so workers who operate cranes and derricks can work safely.

What is the status of OSHA¹s major crane-safety regulation?

We expect this standard to be finalized fairly soon.

Like when?

We're aiming for July and I think it's still, as far as we know, on target. And it will be very important to ensure that the proper training programs are in place.

What other sort of construction-related initiatives do you have in the works or do you see down the road?

We've just announced a program where we'll be working with cities across the country, training their building inspectors, to identify workplace hazards and contacting us. So that¹s a very big issue for us.

We're looking right now at the ways we target our inspectionsŠto ensure We're getting out to all types of construction facilities and particularly the high-risk ones. So we¹re now examining how we do that and we¹re very interested in pursuing that.

We're focusing very much on non-English-speaking workers and trying to reach them through alterative methods--reaching out to community groups, faith-based groups.

We've actually signed a number of agreements with the Mexican consulates around the country who will represent workers, and construction is probably the largest area where these workers are employed. So we¹re very interested in doing that as well.

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