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Industry debates OSHA crane rules

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

Various groups this week are arguing new crane safety rules should not apply to small equipment, but those speaking in Washington, D.C., do not represent a unified industry voice.

The proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules will increase safety standards for crane operation and require operators be trained and certified.

The rules are fine for large construction operations — such as those involving tower cranes — but should not apply to small-scale work, such as utility power-line repairs, said Charles Kelly, director of industry and human resources issues for the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based association of electric companies.

Kelly testified Wednesday morning at an OSHA public hearing in Washington. He said the $1,700 per-person training and certification costs could cost utilities millions if workers who operate boom trucks to fix power lines must be certified.

He said the American Wind Energy Association, which does not want the rules to apply to wind turbine repair crews, and other organizations raised similar concerns Wednesday.

Yet the comments in Washington are contrary to some opinions in Wisconsin. Terry McGowan, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, Pewaukee, said certification requirements should apply to all operators.

“Why should any crane or any type of hoisting equipment be excluded?” he asked. “Nobody should be excluded. Nobody should be given exemptions from the standard.”

That is not how the Wisconsin Water Well Association views it. The group does not want to be forced to certify its crews and is keeping tabs on the progress of the proposed rule, said Jeff Beiriger, government relations advisor for the association of water well drillers.

“While crane safety is important,” he said, “we, on the other hand, have to make sure that people that have years and years of experience on a piece of equipment don’t all of the sudden find themselves not able to use it because of some certification requirement.”

Utility crews should be forced to get certification, said Graham Brent, executive director of the nonprofit National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. The commission is the only nationwide group that provides operator certification.

“It’s still a crane, and people should have to know how to operate it properly,” he said.

He said utility and wind turbine groups, along with larger construction organizations such as The Associated General Contractors of America and Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., have opposed mandatory certification even though it would verify that workers are trained. Trained workers have better safety records, said Brent, who was scheduled to testify before OSHA on Thursday.

“It’s a little disappointing,” he said, “to hear from a number of different parties who feel that training and certification is burdensome and onerous.”

McGowan said he is disappointed OSHA required forklift operators to be trained and certified six years ago but does not require the same for crane operators. He said he thinks there’s enough support in Wisconsin to pass a state certification program, but he does not want to push the state Legislature to approve one until OSHA approves its rules.

“I’m asking, ‘What in God’s name took so long?’” he said. “I mean, you need a license to cut hair. You need a license to tend bar.”

Brent said he expects it will be another year before OSHA digests the information it receives during this week’s hearings and issues a final rule. As written, the crane regulations would not take effect for another five years after the rules are approved. Considering the long wait, Brent said, other states, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Maryland, are creating their own rules before OSHA approves its standards.

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