Unintended consequences is a phrase describing unforeseen—and often unfortunate—effects resulting from an action. It can be a lofty way of saying “oops.” Before too long, users of mast-climbing work platforms (MCWPs) who rely on jib lifts to raise block, brick, glass, and other construction materials to the elevated platform may be coping with an unintended consequence of OSHA’s new crane operator certification regulation.
In a little less than two years, OSHA will require operators who run any crane with a capacity of 2,000 lbs. or more on construction projects to be certified. OSHA defines a “crane” as a machine that can lift a suspended load under power and can move it horizontally. The description certainly covers the large 200-, 600-ton, or even 2,500-ton capacity, crawler-mounted, lattice-boom giants that handle big loads like power plant equipment.
It also describes small jib cranes mounted on some MCWPs. Beginning in November 2014, masons, glaziers, and other tradespeople who periodically run these MCWP-mounted jib cranes may have to become certified crane operators.
Kevin O’Shea, director of safety and training for Mastclimbers LLC and a representative of the International Powered Access Federation and the Scaffold & Access Industry Association, says that although the OSHA’s crane operator certification rule was not aimed at the jib lifts, it nevertheless snagged them “like dolphins caught in fishing nets.”
The situation poses two problems. First, anyone who operates one of those jib cranes would have to go through extensive and fairly costly training and certification. Secondly, no one currently offers training and certification for this kind of crane. Even if a jib-crane operator wants to certify, there’s no way to do it.
Furthermore, says O’Shea, the number of jib-lift operators is too small to induce trainers and certifiers to develop such programs.
If things don’t change, MCWP users will have few options for getting materials to an elevated worksite: lower the platform and load it on the ground; rent a mobile crane to lift materials to the elevated platform; or use a hoist with less than 2,000-pound capacity (which does not need a certified operator).
O’Shea is working with OSHA on behalf of the industry to find a solution. He says that since OSHA has become aware of the problem, it has been actively trying to find an answer. Let’s hope one comes in time to avoid the unintended consequences.
Type and capacity debate
Meanwhile, debate over the more well-known and far-reaching aspect of the new cranes and derricks rule rumbles on. I’m not certain whether the “by type and capacity” problem came from a misunderstanding from a change in regulatory intent over time. Either way, the situation holds huge implications for more than 125,000 already-certified operators and the companies that employ them.
On the one hand, certifying a crane operator for a specific type and capacity range of crane makes sense. The skills needed to operate a 600-ton lattice boom crane are different than those needed to run a 10-ton telescopic boom truck.
On the other hand, it would not be practical—or right—to require that skilled operators who have earned certification now re-earn it. That would be akin to the motor vehicle department making a licensed driver re-qualify because his or her license didn’t specify what type car they had driven during the road test.
OSHA and the industry need to find a fair, practical solution. There’s too much at stake not to.