In one of the most important federal construction safety actions in years, the Labor Dept.'s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a sweeping new rule aimed at reducing deaths and injuries involving construction cranes.

OSHA says that the rule, released July 28, will affect about 267,000 construction and crane rental companies and certification organizations that together employ about 4.8 million workers.

The 1,070-page revised standard for Cranes and Derricks in Construction replaces a 1971 regulation and is "long overdue," says Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Most provisions of the new rule will take effect Nov. 8. One key provision, a new requirement that construction-crane operators must be certified, will become effective in 2014.

David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA, says, "We think this will make an important contribution in saving lives," for workers as well as for passers-by near construction sites.

OSHA estimates that the regulation will prevent 22 fatalities and 175 non-fatal injuries per year.

One major new mandate in the rule is the institution of certification requirements for crane operators, Michaels told reporters in a July 28 conference call. He says operators will be required to be certified for the type of equipment they are using

Other crane-related workers, including riggers, will have to be qualified.

He also said that one change from OSHA's July 2008 proposed rule is that the final version clarifies "that our rules do not preempt state and local requirements."

In addition, the regulation includes new mandates for working around power lines.

Several 2008 fatal crane accidents in New York and other cities had an effect on some aspects of the regulation.

For example, Michaels says the rule includes provisions dealing with synthetic slings, a product that he says was not in use when the previous crane rule was issued 40 years ago. He says the new regulation requires synthetic slings to be used in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, during assembly and disassembly.

Another new requirement in the rule is that tower-crane parts will have to be inspected before the crane is erected. Michaels says a tower-crane part was associated with one of the New York accidents.

The rule has been long in the works. In 2003, OSHA assembled a advisory committee composed of 23 crane specialists, including representatives from various parts of the industry and from labor unions. That group produced a consensus on crane regulatory provisions in July 2004.

But a formal proposed rule didn't come out until October 2008 and now, some 21 months after that, the final rule is out.

OSHA also held a July 28 Web chat answering dozens of detailed and general questions from interested parties about the new crane rule.