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Editorial: Don’t wait for crane rules

A contractor could maneuver a crane through the gaping hole in Wisconsin’s oversight of those who operate the machines.

But that’s the reality in a state that chooses to cross its fingers and hope no one dies rather than institute a system to certify or license crane operators. Wisconsin would rather wait for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s national certification rules than pass state legislation.

That decision goes back to 2010, when then-state Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, proposed a bill that would have required licensing for crane operators. It failed because OSHA’s less-stringent certification for operators was on the horizon.

At the time, Terry McGowan, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, questioned the wisdom of waiting for OSHA. The union and other organizations have their own training requirements for operators, but participation in those programs is voluntary.

“This is all about making sure the workers are safe,” he said.

McGowan was right.

If the 2010 bill was flawed, then it was the responsibility of those involved to find a solution for the sake of safety.

But state leaders chose to wait. They’re still waiting.

OSHA’s certification rules appeared on the Federal Register in November 2010 with the caveat they would not go into effect until 2014. Until then, employers in Wisconsin need only prove to OSHA that they have spent at least a minimal amount of time teaching employees how to operate cranes. There is no testing. There is no minimum number of hours to be spent on training.

Two people died this year in crane collapses on Highway 41 in Wisconsin. That’s not an indictment of the training those crane operators received but it’s a clear illustration of how dangerous cranes can be.

Most crane operators in the state are trained, experienced and able to safely run the machines. Very few construction company owners would risk putting a multimillion-dollar crane in the hands of someone incapable of doing the job.

But avoiding risk is the incentive for certification. There’s no reason to gamble. There’s no reason to trust that every person with access to a crane also has access to responsible decisions about who will run the equipment.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin legislators sit on their hands. And the risky belief that OSHA’s certification will be here soon enough grows stronger with every passing day.

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