As Dean McKenzie takes over as head of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s construction directorate, he faces a long list of regulatory priorities. At the top of the agenda: put in place, by January, a new proposal on crane operator certification requirements.

Construction industry safety specialists welcome McKenzie’s appointment, which took effect on Sept. 1, and say his background in the industry and at OSHA will serve him well as he begins his new job. McKenzie served as OSHA deputy director from 2013-2015. He succeeds Jim Maddux, a longtime OSHA official who retired in December. 

McKenzie worked as a millwright and contractor before coming to OSHA in 2009. “He has a good rapport with a lot of folks in the industry,” says Chris
Trahan, deputy director of the CPWR-Center for Construction Research and Training, in Silver Spring, Md. “I think a lot of the employers and associations like him, and I hope he’ll be able to accomplish good, cooperative things with everybody,” she says. 

CPWR has been working closely with OSHA on a number of issues, including a fall-prevention awareness program that reaches close to five million people.
Kevin Cannon, senior director of safety and health services at the Associated General Contractors of America, adds, “I believe [McKenzie’s] having a construction background brings credibility to the office” at OSHA.

McKenzie grew up working in construction. His father, a chemist, encouraged McKenzie to learn and do things on his own. “By the time I was 12, I was sweating copper pipe and wiring electrical circuits,” he said during a recent interview with ENR. He started working for the steel mills in the mid-1970s and worked a side job in construction to supplement his income, working for a builder in Michigan City, Ind. Over a 40-year career, McKenzie has worked as a general contractor, business owner and project manager on a variety of projects, including industrial jobs in Indiana, Florida, Colorado and the Caribbean. 

McKenzie said that having a construction-industry background helps him to understand the issues and challenges contractors and workers face. “We can talk as peers, even though I’m now a federal regulator,” he said. As the construction director, McKenzie says his first priority is to issue a new proposed rule on aspects of the
controversial certification regulation for crane and derrick operators. The rule was finalized in 2014, but outstanding issues, such as whether to require that operators be trained not only type of crane but also on capacity, forced the agency to go back and rethink the requirements. “After a lot of debate and discussion, you don’t want to open up a piece of it, but we [felt] that we had to do that,” he said. 

OSHA hopes to issue the new proposal by the end of 2016 and finalize it by November 2017. Other priorities include rules on noise hazards and injuries caused by equipment “backovers.”