Crane Safety Evolves Gradually Over Past Decade

Tue November 19, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Darryl Seland

Since the Big Blue accident in Milwaukee and several other crane incidents in the early-to-mid 1990s, crane safety has been under a microscope.

This scrutiny, plus the fact that crane and hoist safety meets the criteria for The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to designate it as a priority, raises the question of why it has taken so long for up-to-date safety guidelines to be published and implemented.

According to proponents of updated safety guidelines, the serious hazard, the high risk, the potential for catastrophic accidents and the ability to implement practical protections “demonstrates the need to address crane and hoist safety.”

However, OSHA’s crane standards for construction, general industry and maritime have not been updated since 1971. The latest standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) released in 2000 covers design, safety and testing for hydraulic and lattice boom cranes.

The problem is the federal code does not reference this standard, rather ANSI B.305, a standard from 1968. The current OSHA standards do not even address many of the advancements in hoisting technology or equipment used in construction today, such as the climbing tower cranes that failed in San Francisco in 1993, killing two bystanders.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 79 deaths were attributed to crane, derrick or hoists accidents in 1993. The risk of death for crane operators is more than one death per thousand workers over a working lifetime of 45 years.

In 1992, OSHA reviewed 400 crane accidents in the construction industry over a five-year period and found 354 resulting deaths, an average of 71 fatalities per year.

Further OSHA analysis identified the major causes of crane accidents as boom or crane contact with energized power lines, overturned cranes, dropped loads, boom collapse, crushing by the counterweight and rigging failures.

In addition, cranes that are not properly maintained and inspected as well as crane operators without the necessary qualifications to operate each piece of equipment safely also were cited. In fact, analysis pointed out that the operator qualifications required in the existing regulations may not provide adequate guidance to employers.

Ultimately, OSHA is the federal regulatory agency that defines, updates, and enforces safety standards. In 2001, after considerable prodding by industry associations, OSHA announced it was putting together a rulemaking committee to address crane safety issues.

“Changes in technology and work processes over the past 30 years call for new, revised crane and derrick safety requirements,” said John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor of OSHA.

On July 15, 2002, in response to industry representatives, OSHA announced its first step in updating its construction safety standards for cranes and derricks through this Negotiated Rulemaking Process.

OSHA expects that a range of issues will be considered, including work zone control, crane operations near power lines, qualifications of individuals who operate, maintain, repair and assemble cranes and derricks, and requirements for fail-safe operation, warnings and other safety-related devices and technologies.

In its announcement, OSHA also outlined the basic procedures involved in forming a negotiated rulemaking advisory committee to develop a draft proposed rule, identified the stakeholders who may be affected, solicited nominations for committee members and asked for public comments regarding any aspect of the negotiated rulemaking process. Comments were accepted for 60 days following the notice.

OSHA’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health is currently updating the federal code, including Subpart N — the existing rule (29 CFR 1926.550) that dates back to 1971 and was based in part on industry consensus standards from 1967 to 1969 — that deals with construction safety and crane operation, which will be considered for inclusion when these standards are published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

A number of states — including California, Washington, and Nevada — are not waiting for a federal code to be updated and have state-enforced OSHA programs. California Senate Bill, SB 1999, was introduced in February 2000, and addresses concerns about crane safety, including an article calling for the certification of crane operators.

In March 1999, OSHA recognized the national crane operator certification program of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), and when OSHA compliance safety and health officers perform inspections or make accident investigations, they recognize NCCCO certification as verification that the crane operators have met the training requirements of the OSHA standards.

“The ability of crane operators to safely operate mobile cranes plays a significant role in overall safety on most construction sites,” said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. “Therefore, it is very important that these crane operators are well trained. This certification program provides evidence – in a highly professional and effective manner – that such training has taken place and that it will continue to help reduce the number of crane incidents.”

In August 2002, OSHA reaffirmed its commitment to recognize the national certification program as demonstrating that the certified operator meets OSHA requirements for crane operator proficiency.

“Three and a half years after the signing of the Agreement recognizing the NCCCO national crane operator certification program, NCCCO is delighted to have this reaffirmation of support by OSHA,” said NCCCO President Ronald Schad, President, Essex Crane Rental Corp., Buffalo Grove, IL.

“This is a tribute to the effectiveness of this national assessment of crane operators in providing evidence that certified operators are meeting OSHA’s requirements for crane operator qualifications as well as those of the ASME B30.5 American National Standard.”

The NCCCO was formed in January 1995 to develop effective performance standards for safe crane operation to assist all segments of general industry and construction. The CCO crane operator testing program was developed and is supported by industry, but administered by the NCCCO to provide a thorough, independent assessment of operator knowledge and skills.

Other industry organizations associated with crane safety and training issues include Crane Safety Associates of America Inc. (CSAA), which was founded by Phillip Ezzell and David Harbin. With 60 years of combined hands-on experience, they have been able to establish training programs with instructors who bring a minimum of 25 years of personal experience to the learning environment.

CSAA was founded to provide safety training and educational programs to the many diverse users of cranes and other hoisting and construction equipment.

Isom Crane & Rigging Safety Specialists have been working to bring safety to job sites all over the country for more than 25 years. Through training, professional equipment inspections and site consultations, it says it has helped its clients avoid the deadly accidents that occur on an all-too-frequent basis.

Isom offers a range of services including crane operator training/licensing, specialized rigger training/licensing, crane inspection/certification, accident investigation, professional witness, on-site safety audits and risk management training.