One person can make a difference in the industry and save lives. That’s what crane man Joe Collins learned when he cast a pivotal vote for construction safety.
“I really believe in my heart that we can do this [work] without hurting people,” says Collins, a crane and heavy-lift consultant in San Antonio. As a subject-matter expert to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Collins was responsible for saving a provision in last year’s cranes-and-derricks rule that requires crane operators to pass a standardized test before grabbing the controls.
Previously, crane operators did not need to take an exam unless it was required at the state or local level. When OSHA issued the rule last summer, the U.S. became one of the first countries to require it. “The U.S. has kind of jumped to the top,” says Robert Hall, president of Bechtel Equipment Operations in Sugar Land, Texas.
Collins was one of 23 experts who hashed out OSHA’s new crane rule in 2004. The final rule, which went into effect last November, is largely the product of that original negotiation between regulators and industry. The group had a tough time coming to a consensus on operator certification. When the first draft came up for a vote, members of the OSHA panel were under pressure from key lobbying groups, such as the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, to vote it down on the grounds that mandatory certification would be bad for business.
Collins, then acting as the crane manager for contractor Zachry Corp., an ARTBA member, ultimately became the swing vote that enabled the rule to move forward. Prior to voting, Collins says he fielded nasty phone calls and threats from ARTBA members and others opposing the rule—some even said they would try to get him fired. Although he personally believed certification was the right thing to do, Collins needed assurance. “I was concerned that what I did would have good and bad effects to [Zachry],” Collins explains. “I didn’t want to do anything that would cause harm to our company.”
Collins called up David Zachry, president of the company, which openly supported certification. “I told him that I would take the heat from ARTBA,” says Zachry. “He was never at risk of losing his job, ever,” says Zachry of the threats to have Collins fired. “He cast the vote our company wanted.”
Though the debate over the vote has since fizzled out, not everyone agrees that Collins was a safety hero. “Joe Collins was an employee who did what his employer told him to do,” Zachry says. But in the eyes of crane folks, Collins acted courageously. “It was essential that we had a standard,” says Mike Monnot, who was Collins’ boss at Zachry and is now equipment chief at Worcester, Pa.-based American Infrastructure. “[Collins] firmly believed it—and so do I—and I was proud that he [voted for it].” Bechtel’s Hall says, “Joe has … been one of the champions” for operator certification. “He’s a crane guy’s crane guy.”