A much-anticipated revision to the decades-old federal regulations on cranes and derricks is getting closer to firming up, but now one public-safety official in New York City is questioning the usefulness of the proposed standard. The city’s buildings commissioner, Robert LiMandri, says he is worried that New York’s own crane rules, imposed after what he calls an “abysmal” year of industry safety lapses, would be wiped out once the less stringent, national standards are put in place. The city has spent $4 million studying crane safety and is in the process of enacting more rules based on the report’s 41 recommendations, which include a tracking system for crane parts and a mandatory retirement age for cranes.

Public crane inspectors, too, would be out of a job, LiMandri argues. “Jurisdictions like New York, which has a highly trained staff of both engineers to review crane design and inspectors to inspect cranes and crane operations, will be precluded from protecting the public from unsafe cranes,” he said, testifying on March 18 at a four-day Occupational Safety and Health Administration hearing in Washington, D.C. “Reliance on this industry to regulate itself would be a fundamental mistake.”

Bill Shuzman, executive director of the New York City-based Allied Building Metal Industries, countered in his testimony, saying he and his colleagues are “strong supporters” of the proposed OSHA regulation. New York City, he added, wants to “have its cake and eat it, too,” because while the city has the authority to regulate public safety, it cannot trounce on OSHA’s turf by enacting a separate set of crane rules or “dual-purpose” rules aimed at protecting workers.

Robert Limandri
“A change in culture must come to this industry…[it] needs more oversight, not less.”

“It seems to me that where OSHA regulations apply, generally that’s fine for the city, but when they don’t like a specific standard, they want to write their own,” Shuzman says. He cites crane regulations enacted in Miami-Dade County, Fla., that were stricken down last year in a temporary restraining order in federal court because Florida had the authority to write public-safety regulations but not ones controlling worker safety . The court reaffirmed its decision early this year on Jan. 14 when the federal judge threw out the case on summary judgment and ruled in favor of the industry.

According to one OSHA spokesman, state and local jurisdictions have the authority to write rules that go above or beyond federal guidelines “as long as they are at least that strict.” But Shuzman notes the case in Miami-Dade made clear that states that are not OSHA “plan” states— those that have not submitted formal health and safety plans to the federal government for the purpose of writing new regulations—are not allowed to write such rules. New York is an OSHA plan state, but only for its public employees.

Is New York City headed for the same destiny as Miami-Dade? “By going down there to testify, [LiMandri] is recognizing that there’s an issue,” Shuzman says. OSHA is allowing 60 days for more comments. Rob Weiss, vice president of Queens, N.Y.-based Cranes Inc., who also testified, says the final rule may still take years to come. “If we keep our fingers crossed, it could be a year,” he says.