By: Thomas H. Welby Published: August 2010

Safety Policy: OSHA Issues Long-Awaited Crane Safety Rule

On July 28th, OSHA released its new safety rule aimed at reducing injuries and deaths related to the operation of construction cranes.

The new rule, most of which will come into effect on November 8th, has been a dozen years in the making, and supersedes the existing rule promulgated in 1971.

According to OSHA, the new rule “is designed to prevent the leading causes of fatalities including electrocution, crushed-by/struck-by hazards during assembly/disassembly, collapse, and overturn.  It also sets forth requirements for ground conditions and crane operator assessment.  In addition, this rule addresses tower crane hazards, the use of synthetic slings for assembly/disassembly work, and clarifies [its] scope, by providing both a functional description, and a list of examples for the equipment that is covered.”

The new rule, OSHA estimates, “will prevent 22 fatalities and 175 non-fatal injuries each year.”

The substance of the new rule will be the subject of a follow-up article, as it runs to more than 1,000 pages in the Federal Register.  The entire rule can be viewed online at www.osha.gov/doc/cranesreg.pdf.1 OSHA is promising to have fact sheets and other compliance assistance material available within the next month.

While I will own up to not having read the new rule from front to back, I can offer a heads-up and references to some of its salient provisions, as follows:

First, the new rule governs most types of cranes and derricks when used in construction-related activities (see the definition of construction at 29 C.F.R. § 1911).  As you probably know, Part 1910 standards apply to general industry, and Part 1926 covers construction.   The new rule will apply to general industrial employers (and to maritime operations) only when cranes and derricks are used in construction-related activities.  The use of cranes in, for example, a manufacturing plant, not for construction purposes, will not be affected.  (For cranes used in demolition, see § 1926.1501).
Second, the new rule covers most but not all types of cranes and derricks engaged in construction activity.  You can refer online to the scope section at § 1926.1400, which outlines the types of equipment within the coverage of the rule.  Boom trucks are covered, as they are considered cranes.  Excavators used to hoist loads with a sling are not covered, but multi-purpose equipment is covered, when it is configured like a crane (as described in the preamble to § 1926.400).  Telehandlers with rotating upper units and booms are not covered, unless equipped with a winch for hoisting.  Heavy equipment service trucks, as used on construction sites to lift parts for equipment repair, are also excluded. 

Another noteworthy change is that the required minimum distance from active electrical power lines is increased from 10 feet to 20 feet.  (Information regarding construction crane activities related to electric utility work may be found in § 1926.1400, and §§ 1926.1407 through 1411).

Fall protection standards for employees working with cranes are set forth in § 1926.1423.

Perhaps the biggest change overall is that, nationwide, all crane operators will have to be third-party certified by 2014.  In those cities and states in which crane operators are already required to be certified, of course, those requirements continue in effect, so long as they are otherwise consistent with the new rule.  The documentation of certification is described in § 1926.1427.  

Additionally, both signal persons (see § 1926.1428) and riggers (§ 1926.1401) will be required to be “qualified” (although not third-party certified).

Shift and monthly inspections must be done by a “competent” person.  Annual inspections must be performed by a “qualified” person (as defined in § 1926.401).

If you have followed the progress of the rule through the lengthy rule-making process, you should be aware that a number of important changes and additions were made since the rule was proposed.  Among the notable additions and changes are the following:

  • The operator certification test may be administered in a language, other than English, understood by the candidate.
  • Under § 1926.1427 of the new rule, employers will have to provide the certification for employees employed by them on the effective date at no cost to those employees.
  • There are new requirements that require the exchange of information among employers concerning ground conditions on the job site.
  • Employers will generally be required to comply with manufacturers’ recom­mendations for the use of synthetic slings.
  • Whenever employees are present in the “fall zone,” the load will have to be handled by a qualified rigger.  (The “fall zone” is defined as any area where the load can reach, if lost or out of control).
  • Tower crane parts will be required to be inspected before the crane is erected.
  • Forklifts are within the scope of the new rule, but only when they are configured like a crane.
  • Pole work related to power transmission and to telecommunications has been excluded, although it is covered by a general industry standard (§ 1910.269).
  • Employers whose employees are qualified in work under subpart V (power trans­mission and distri­bution) of Part 1926, the construction standard, may comply with § 1910.269 of the general industry standard.

The new rule also clarifies that, consistent with the overall OSHA scheme of things, federal OSHA does not pre-empt local or state rules (many states have their own rules, which are required however to be at least as effective as the federal standards).  States such as California and North Carolina which have their own OSHA statutes will have six months to update their own rules, if necessary.

OSHA estimates that about 267,000 construction, crane rental, and crane certification establishments, employing a total of 4.8 million workers, will be affected by the new standard.  

Keep in mind that, if you are a general contractor, you will generally be co-responsible for compliance with the new crane standard, even if none of your own employees are themselves involved in the operation of covered equipment.

The good news, to be sure, is that a great deal of hard work has obviously gone into this new rule and, certainly, it was the product of a process in which the voices of manufacturers, construction employers, and labor organizations were heard.

Whether the new rule might have been formulated and adopted more expeditiously, or expressed in fewer than 1,070 pages, are now moot points.  Come November, most of the key provisions (other than the third-party certification for operators) will be in effect, and you need to familiarize yourself with the new rule (look for online help after Labor Day, or contact your regional or area OSHA office) and plan accordingly.

1 An alternative link to view the entire text is www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2010-17818_PI.pdf.

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