As crane experts gathered in Toronto Sept. 18 to discuss issues plaguing crane workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent out advance-review drafts of a forthcoming rule to members of its Cranes and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking Committee (C-DAC), which in 2004 hammered out an update to OSHA's decades-old crane regulation.
The much-anticipated federal rule, which is slated to go out for public comments on Oct. 3, could save at least 53 lives and prevent 115 injuries a year, says OSHA. It would supplant a rule promulgated in 1971, which has seen few revisions despite rapid changes in crane work.
The C-DAC rule "comprehensively addresses the hazards associated with the use of cranes and derricks in construction, including tower cranes," says Edwin G. Foulke Jr., OSHA's assistant secretary of labor. "This draft rule will both protect construction employees and help prevent crane accidents by updating existing protections and requiring crane operators to be trained."
Industry negotiators applaud OSHA for moving forward on the long-awaited rule, but some say that it still falls short of drawing clear lines of responsibility on the jobsite, where many hoisting specialists, often working for varying firms, play differing roles during a lift.
When OSHA's original rule was published, "crane operators were king," says Bill Smith, president of claims and risk management for Atlanta, Ga.-based NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. and C-DAC negotiator. "Our problem is when plaintiffs say 'You guys are held responsible.'"
New industry standards developed since C-DAC have spread risk to other parties making decisions on the job. "For the first time, we've delineated roles of responsibility," Smith explains. "It's changed tort law."
At the Toronto meeting, Smith urged SC&RA members in their C-DAC comments to pressure OSHA in its final rule to include language similar to American Society of Mechanical Engineers' B30.5-2007 standard, published late last year, which includes a new section that spells out the role of crane operators, owners, users, lift directors and site supervisors.
"It's a slim chance," Smith told attendees, "but I think it should be done."
Several fatal crane accidents this year have led to increased state and local regulations, which some C-DAC members say has led to an onerous patchwork of crane rules. Robert Weiss, vice president of Maspeth, N.Y.-based Cranes Inc. and C-DAC member, calls the draft an "excellent" document, adding that he thinks it will help "clear up" safety questions around the country.
The cost of added safety would pay dividends, according OSHA estimates. The construction industry would spend about $123 million a year in compliance costs, such as worker training and testing, but employers would save $406 million in accidental deaths and injuries, translating into a net benefit of $283 million per year. OSHA estimates the average cost of a life at $7.5 million and an injury at $50,000.
"The economic impact of the proposed rulemaking is most likely to consist of a small increase in prices for affected construction projects--less than 0.3 percent, on average," the draft's preamble says. "OSHA concludes preliminarily that compliance with the requirements of the proposed rulemaking is economically feasible in every affected industry sector."
The draft rule, which calls for crane operators to be certified by a nationally-accredited testing agency, will impact about 96,000 cranes, including 2,000 tower cranes, as well as 164,500 companies and 2.3 million employees, OSHA adds.
The roughly 100-page-long draft rule sent to C-DAC members is attached at the end of over 1,000 pages of industry analysis. Copies are available at http://www.osha.gov/doc/proposedrule/Cranes_Derricks_Proposed_Rule.html.