Miami-Dade aims to curb local crane accidents through increased regulation.
Crane Safety & Inspections Inc.
Miami-Dade aims to curb local crane accidents through increased regulation.

“When cranes are falling down, it’s a major safety issue,” says Gerard Philippeaux, director of public affairs for Audrey M. Edmonson, Miami-Dade County commissioner. Edmonson proposed the local ordinance following an April 2006 fatality of a worker who fell 39 stories to his death when a piece of the tower crane he was working on fell. The ordinance comes up for a vote March 18.

OSHA’s crane and derrick rule has changed little since 1971. The agency is “in the latter stages of developing a proposed rule,” says Claude Knighten, an OSHA spokesman. The slow progress frustrates industry sources. “The report from the Crane and Derricks Advisory Committee [C-DAC] has been sitting in OSHA for more than three years,” says Graham Brent, executive director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). “It may not be published as even a draft review until the end of this year.”

On Feb. 26, Douglas E. Williams, president of Graham, N.C.-based steel erector Buckner Cos., wrote a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to “express our extreme disappointment in the lack of progress.” Buckner, a C-DAC negotiator, claims the national standard “would do away with the need for local initiatives, which are being done because OSHA is dragging its feet.”

Patchwork Requirements

The federal rule could help clear up a patchwork of directives across the country. The Miami-Dade ordinance describes installation of cranes and other hoisting equipment; requires education and certification of operators; and sets standards for hurricane preparedness and provides enforcement mechanisms. If passed, the law will go into effect in 10 days, unless vetoed by the mayor. The provision on certification of crane operators would become effective on Jan. 1, 2009, provided tests are offered in Spanish and Creole by that date. Violators would be fined $500.

Further, crane suppliers would need to adhere to voluntary consensus standards as published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Structural Engineering Institute and American Society of Civil Engineers as they apply to operations, wind-loading, foundations, tie-ins, free-standing height and top tie-in height. The law would exempt mobile cranes with a boom length of less than 25 ft or capacity of less than 15,000 lb.

But some think the ordinance would make a nightmare out of jobsite logistics. Within the rule, “you can’t have a multi-crane job because you can’t get the elevations between cranes from your tiebacks to make them high enough,” says Jim Robertson, managing partner of General Crane USA, Pompano Beach. Between permitting and inspections, crane users would realize a 25% to 35% increase in costs, he estimates. “You don’t have to go that far to put safety standards in place.”

Requiring crane inspection and operator certification was key to winning the support of South Florida Associated General Contractors, says Len Mills, executive vice president. “If the state was not going to pass a law on crane safety, we had no other choice than to get a local ordinance,” says Mills, who unsuccessfully lobbied for state legislation last year.

But the proposed county regulation is not exactly what the association wanted. It grants an unusual amount of latitude to local building officials, including discretionary consideration of a crane as a permanent structure. “It could end up putting construction workers out of work who have nothing to do with the operation of the crane,” Mills says.

It is not unusual for local, state and national groups to debate crane standards. Acting against the recommendation of some local chapters in 2004, the Associated General Contractors of America, National Association of Home Builders and American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association tried to block C-DAC’s consensus draft, arguing that its strict, NCCCO-or-equivalent test requirements would crush small businesses. “There is a concern that NCCCO is the only body out there,” says Michele Myers, AGC’s director of safety and health. But since 2004, several agencies besides NCCCO have become or are in the process of becoming nationally accredited.

Inspections and operator testing are still much discussed across the industry. It is not unusual for people to call for tighter standards after an accident, says Edward Shapiro, a principal with Heavy Equipment Services Co., Niantic, Conn., and a vice president of the Crane Certification Association of America (CCAA), Vancouver, Wash. He cites Washington and California as examples of state governments requiring independent crane inspections.

Yet CCAA does not think mandatory inspections are necessary, as “most smart contractors require third-party inspection,” Shapiro explains. But he and Robertson agree that third-party operator testing helps filter out the unsafe ones, so “you don’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry operating a tower crane 300 ft in the air,” Robertson explains. “Down here, it’s like the wild, wild West,” says Gregory Teslia, president of Crane Safety & Inspections Inc., Coral Springs. “If you can pull the levers and get away with it, you can be an operator,” adds Teslia, an inspector since 1979.

A national standard could help save compliance costs, confusion and lives. “Crane operators shouldn’t have to be unduly penalized by different criteria from county to county and state to state,” explains NCCCO’s Brent. “The cranes themselves don’t change.”

Yet even some supporters in Florida think Edmonson’s ordinance goes too far. “If we leave it up to the discretion of building officials, they will want the wind loads to be 145 mph to 150 mph, to meet hurricane-resistant standards for permanent structures,” Teslia says, noting that current standards call for crane foundations to withstand 94-mph winds.

Crane design would likely not change, but how equipment is used likely will, says Peter Juhren, national service manager for Morrow Equipment Co., Salem, Ore., a nationwide tower-crane supplier. Future Miami projects would require shorter hook heights and stronger tower sections, posing increased costs, he adds.

Mills and others hope a pending state law in Florida is passed in April, superceding the local ordinance. The state law would require tower-crane users to follow ASME standards and operators to have NCCCO-or-equivalent certification. It does not address mobile cranes or personnel hoists.

ince the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is creeping along with its crane and derrick rulemaking, industry sources say local rules are emerging instead in places like Florida to tighten crane inspections and operator certification. Opponents call the region’s regulations a blow to business, while advocates argue that if federal regulators don’t make changes soon to crack down on unsafe practices that continue to cause crane accidents and fatalities, smaller jurisdictions will have to lead from behind.