On May 18th, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) announced a proposal to amend its crane operator safety rules. Pursuant to federal rulemaking procedures, comments will be accepted on the proposed rule until June 20, 2018.
The goal of the new rule is to improve safety at construction sites. This latest proposal brings some much needed clarity to a crane operator certification rulemaking process that began back in 2010. At that time, OSHA proposed a rule that required crane operators be certified for both ‘crane type’ and ‘lifting capacity’. However, for a variety of reasons, these rules never went into effect.
OSHA Proposed Change will end the ‘Capacity’ Certification Requirement
Under the 2010 proposal, the capacity certification requirement called for crane operators to be certified according to the capacity of the crane. Stakeholders in the industry raised major concerns that these ‘certifications’ would not prove that the crane operators had the necessary skills to safely operate these large machines. Under the new rules proposed by OSHA, the crane capacity certification requirement will be dropped entirely. However, the agency says that updated regulations will expand the crane type certification programs available to operators. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) released a statement supporting the agency’s decision to drop the capacity certification requirement.
OSHA Plans to Address the Other Major Safety Issue in the Crane Industry: Employer Duties
In addition to providing clarification on crane operator qualifications, OSHA also addressed the issue of employer duties in its latest rulemaking proposal. In essence, OSHA is seeking to extend employer duties above and beyond ensuring that its crane operators hold the appropriate certifications for their position. OSHA wants to amend federal rules to require that all employers make sure that crane operators receive ongoing evaluation and safety training.
While standardized certification is certainly important for crane operators, every construction job site is different. OSHA reports that it has heard from many industry stakeholders that employers must play a more ‘hands-on’ role in ensuring that crane operators are competent and qualified. This is because no certification program can truly replicate the unique situations that crane operators will inevitably deal with on individual job sites. Employers are in a better position to make sure that crane operators actually have the skills, experience, training, tools, and judgment to work in a safe manner.
Federal Regulators Have Focused on Crane Safety in the Northwest
In recent years, OSHA has increased its focus on crane safety in the northwestern United States. In 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) launched a program aimed at reducing crane accident injuries in construction and maritime operations in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
Crane safety is a particularly important issue in the Seattle metropolitan area. Seattle has seen a major construction boom in the last decade. In 2016 and 2017, Seattle was named the ‘Crane Capital of America’. The Seattle Times reported that the city has more cranes than any other city, including much larger cities such as New York City and Los Angeles.
The Washington State Crane Code is More Strict than the Federal Rules
Crane operations are also regulated at the state level. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has enacted crane safety regulations that are more stringent than federal regulations. Notably, our state has its own crane operator qualification and certification requirements (WAC 296-155-53300).
In creating crane safety regulations, Washington state officials studied the province of Ontario, Canada. Following major reforms, Ontario was able to reduce crane accident fatalities and serious injuries by more than 60 percent in a single decade. In reviewing and applying the lessons learned from these reforms, Washington officials determined that an effective crane code must require:
- Strict hiring and training practices;
- Well-crafted crane operator certification programs;
- Ongoing compliance and participation by all stakeholders; and
- Regular on-site inspections.
This bill was drafted in response to a crane collapse that occurred in Bellevue in November 2006. In this incident, the base of a tower crane failed, causing the structure to collapse and kill a man. To prevent similar tragedies, Washington State adopted safety requirements for all employers who use cranes. In addition to crane operator qualification and certification requirements, the rules also specifically address the duties of Site Supervisors (WAC 296-155-53401), Signal person qualifications (WAC 296-155-53302) and Rigger qualifications (WAC 296-155-53306).
Preventable injuries occur when contractors fail to comply with State and Federal safety regulations. The attorneys at The Walthew Law Firm have extensive experience holding employers, including general and sub-contractors, responsible when they violate our state crane safety regulations causing injury to others.
Speak to a Local Attorney Today
At The Walthew Law Firm, our Seattle workers’ compensation attorneys have handled a wide range of work injury claims, including construction site accidents. If you were injured in a crane accident, we are here to help.
To get a free, fully private consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm today. With offices in Seattle and Everett, we represent injured workers throughout Washington, including in King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, and Kitsap County.