ORLANDO, Fla.—Sure, mobile crane operators pull out onto the public roadway with their work vehicles every morning, just as the drivers of various other types of commercial trucks do.

But when the mobile crane arrives at its destination a half-hour later, that’s where even an apples-to-oranges comparison ends and any doubt is removed as to why different rules need be applied, according to the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association.

“Mobile crane operators are selected first and foremost for their ability to operate a crane, because it is a very complex piece of equipment,” said Jeffrey Hammons, AmQuip Crane Rental vice president of risk management and a driving force behind SC&RA’s push for a mobile crane exemption to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service regulations. “The typical truck driver doesn’t have to maintain operator certifications and skill sets on how to set up a crane, how to operate a crane, how to put the crane in its myriad of configurations.”

By nature, crane operations are highly planned and methodical, Hammons told ENR. Once on the job, mobile crane operators have in-seat downtime of varying lengths throughout their shifts. Furthermore, once back on the road, mobile cranes already require special permitting and have more restrictions and conditions than typical on-highway cargo trucks, including hours of travel, reduced speed and the need for pilot vehicles. “They are already heavily regulated,” says Hammons, who updated Crane & Rigging Group members during SC&RA’s annual meeting on the pending FMCSA exemption, which would give a 14-hour working limit with one 30-minute break for operators of mobile cranes sized 30 tons and up.

Since 2010, mobile crane operators have been subject to the same federal 11-hour “driving” limit and 14-hour overall working limit for “property-carrying” drivers; essentially, following 10 hours off duty, drivers may operate for a maximum 11 hours within the next 14 hours. “Albeit it’s not the entire total exemption request we wanted, but nonetheless fruitful,” Hammons told his fellow SC&RA Safety Education and Training Committee members. Having passed the public comment stage, with all but one of 13 comments in favor, the exemption is now in the six-month agency review process.

“It’s an issue that, quite frankly, deserves much more than 13 comments from the nation as a whole,” said outgoing SC&RA committee chair Daniel Erwin, of Construction Safety Experts.  It is important to show this and future issues are not just important to any particular association, but rather to the industry as a whole, added committee member Bill Smith. “When something like this comes out,” said Smith, of NBIS Claims and Risk Management, “almost every member if they can should reply in some way, shape or form, positive or negative, however you feel like you need to.”

Hammons is cautiously optimistic. “I’m sure you are probably getting tired of hearing from me for the past two-and-a-half years on this subject, right?” he told SC&RA Crane & Rigging Group members. “I for one really appreciate all the work that you have done on it,” replied Erwin. “Whether it is two-and-a-half years or continues to be three more years, I think it’s worth the effort you have put in … and plus we have made some ground.

“Crane operators are not in that same category in what they do for a living,” said Erwin, “and therefore they just should not be in the same category with hours of service and various other things.”

In another meeting room at last week's conference in Orlando, specialized haulers in the SC&RA Transportation Group were informed that, under the FAST Act, FMCSA’s 30-minute break exemption for them was extended five years through June, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Associated General Contractors of America has given a thumbs-up to the FAST Act also expanding the exemption that allows construction drivers to reset their on-duty clocks after a 24-hour rest period if they work within close proximity to their home office. The distance is now 75 miles, up from the previous 50.

FMCSA has also relieved ready-mix truck drivers of the requirement for a 30-minute break during an eight-hour shift, reflecting the quality urgency of the product being hauled.