As I wrote in this week’s analysis of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new crane rules, the federal requirement that all crane operators be tested to a national, accredited standard barely passed through heated negotiations. But the requirement is there, and under the rules, employers must comply by November 2014.
Other workers are left somewhat off the hook, although anyone giving signals to a crane operator is required by this November to be “qualified.” Employers must also show proof that these workers have passed an oral or written and hands-on test of some kind that covers crane signals and basic crane functions, but that test does not necessarily need to be accredited.
So, then, experts say it came as a surprise to see new language in the rule that now requires riggers to be “qualified” as well (though not necessarily tested).
Why qualify riggers? Like a lengthy SEC filing that rewards secrets for those who are patient enough to read it, OSHA’s preamble to this week’s rulemaking (PDF) offers some interesting safety nuggets to chew on. It says “riggers are injured and killed more frequently than workers in any other occupation during construction crane activities. They are injured when cranes tip over or booms fall, by falling loads, by electrical shock from power line contact, and through falls.”
Does it sound as though regulators missed an opportunity to take the extra step of certification for riggers? Perhaps, OSHA says, but “no commenter who advocated certification for riggers provided more than a qualitative assertion that increased crane safety would result.”
Ditto for crane inspectors. “There was similarly no information in the record that inspection failures had resulted in accidents, save for one accident in New York City that resulted from an inadequate repair to a tower crane part,” the agency notes. Although regulators and industry experts alike have pointed to the need for crane signalpersons, riggers and inspectors to be certified nationwide in the same manner as operators, there simply is a lack of data to back it up.
This is so even as OSHA waves its finger at systemic signal, rigging and inspection problems. In a section of the rule dealing with the proper care and handling of synthetic slings, the agency notes that it found in its investigation of a deadly tower-crane collapse in New York City in March 2008 that improper use of nylon slings caused the accident. It even reiterated this point in the rule, published after William Rapetti, the master rigger in charge of the crane work, was acquitted on all criminal counts.
Like it or not, the rule now requires employers to protect fabric slings from sharp edges and “comply with all applicable manufacturer prohibitions.” But it stops short of requiring that riggers take a nationally accredited test.
Though some negotiators have recently told me they would have supported mandatory, accredited certification of riggers, signalers, inspectors and others, they say they didn’t fight for it for several reasons. First, no test yet existed beyond operators when the rule was negotiated.
That argument doesn’t really hold water anymore. Multiple accredited agencies now offer national rigging and signalperson tests, and an inspector exam is coming next year. So, employers, what are you waiting for?
Second, some felt that rigging qualifications were outside of the rule's charge; after all this was a crane rule, not a rigging rule, they argue. Third, the 2008 accidents brought new failures to light. The momentum for more certification grew out of those accidents.
And finally—let’s not forget—this was a "negotiated" rulemaking between OSHA and the industry. Many felt that it would be tough enough to get mandatory operator certification through the committee. Indeed, it was a nasty fight. Requiring certification for other workers may have been a true deal-breaker.
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