Three days after a contractors’ trade group requested more time to comply with new federal crane-safety regulations, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration nevertheless plans to begin enforcing the standard on Nov. 8, as scheduled.
“The standard was published on Aug. 9 and goes into effect within 90 days,” writes Diana Petterson, federal OSHA spokeswoman, in an Aug. 31 e-mail to ENR.
On Aug. 27, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) sent a letter to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels seeking to delay enforcement of the landmark crane-safety rules until 90 days after the agency has issued “a reasonable set of compliance resources.”
The letter, signed by Craig Shaffer, president of SafetyWorks Inc., Dillsburg, Pa., and chairman of ABC’s health and safety committee, explains that the lack of resources places small contractors “at a significant disadvantage” when OSHA officers set out to enforce the final rule.
OSHA responds that it already has helped employers get up to speed. It has provided an archived Webchat and fact sheet on its Website, and it is planning to post a PowerPoint presentation and host a live Webinar soon. However, the agency says, the rule still goes into effect on Nov. 8.
“Personally, that doesn’t surprise me,” says Shaffer. The Webchat’s topics, he adds, were “all over the place, and half of it was a lovefest. There is nothing on that Website that is helpful for someone who wants to do the right thing.”
The trade group, based in Arlington, Va., was heavily involved in drafting the crane regulation. The standards were created through a “negotiated rule-making” process, for which OSHA convened a panel of 23 industry experts, including an ABC representative, to help write the rules that regulators would enforce. The OSHA panel reached a consensus in 2004. Previous federal rules were nearly 40 years old and outdated.
ABC argues that small businesses don’t have the resources to research and implement the rule on their own. But George Young Co., a small mechanical contractor in Swedesboro, N.J., says it is ready. “It’s a long document … and that is why we are having it reviewed,” says George Young, president. “But so far the initial report is, ‘George, we are in good shape.’ ”
Asked why it seeks postponement, ABC’s staff told ENR its members support the rules. “We’re not trying to stall,” explains Sean Thurman, ABC’s manager of regulatory affairs. “What we are trying to do is hold OSHA accountable for the promise that it made.”
When the final rule was announced on July 28, Michaels said during a Webchat that OSHA “plans to have fact sheets and other compliance-assistance material available within the next month.” But small companies, says ABC, need more compliance help now. “It’s a tough economy right now. They’re not sitting around on their computer waiting for a Webinar,” says Shaffer.
Rather than delaying enforcement, Young suggests OSHA should consider not imposing financial penalties for a short period while firms review policies and retrain workers.
“It could be a happy medium,” he says.