Cities, States Discuss Crane Safety Regulations

Back in March of this year, after the first tower crane collapse in New York City, we noted in a WCSN / ENR.com Walking the Walk column that the writing was on the wall for changes in crane safety. Since that time, New York City has experienced a second tower crane failure, and other high profile crane accidents, most involving mobile cranes, have made news across the country. The latest crane accident making national headlines was the tragic collapse of a 2,500-ton crane in a Houston, Texas-area refinery.

But something may be starting to change.

The string of crane accidents this year appears to be prompting some cities, counties and states to begin discussions about crane safety in their home turf. From New York to Arizona and in states such as Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and others, city councils, boards of supervisors, town boards and other local authorities are putting crane safety on the agenda for discussion. Newspapers from The Wall Street Journal to a newspaper in rural Madison, S.D., are keeping the issue alive as well. It appears some local jurisdictions are growing impatient with the Feds who have taken almost six years to change rules that are at least 35 years old. Other local leaders simply want to learn more about how crane safety is regulated.

It will be interesting to see where all of this ends up. After a tower crane failure in Washington state last year, industry stakeholders did get involved after state and local lawmakers were hounded by the public to do something to correct the extreme lack of performance and inspection requirements for operating cranes in the state. Since then, the bar of safety has been substantially raised with industry participation being a key part of the success. And even though the new rules won't be effective until Jan. 1, 2010, Washington acted when the Feds didn't • and still haven't.

Many local agencies in other states across the United States have no experience with drafting crane safety regulations, but the one thing they do know is they don't want a crane disaster in their hometown and they aren't too keen about waiting around for the Feds to get off the dime to do something about it. There is a great opportunity here for the industry stakeholders to step forward and guide the process on the local and state level all over the country. It's an opportunity we shouldn't miss.

Rick Raef is a safety consultant for Willis Group Holdings and editor of WCSN-The Willis Construction Safety Network, an electronic safety bulletin distributed to contractors. This blog is based on the bulletins and is about safety and health at the construction site and the construction life.

Roundup on Crane Safety

Oklahoma: According to a KETV.com report, Oklahoma has no state regulation regarding crane safety. Lloyd Fields, commissioner of the state's Department of Labor, said Oklahoma is now considering state regulation.

Arizona: According to ABC15.com, Arizona does not have its own crane inspectors and there is no Arizona state agency that is in charge of inspecting cranes on a regular basis. Instead, Arizona follows Federal OSHA guidelines which allow crane companies to inspect themselves. Darin Perkins, director of the Arizona Department of Occupational Health and Safety, estimated OSHA will be updating its guidelines sometime before the end of the year.

California: A Union-Tribune article reports that California has some of the nation's most stringent safety requirements for cranes, put into place after a 1989 crane collapse in San Francisco that killed five people and prompted the formation of a Tower Crane Task Force and tougher state regulations. Despite the rules, Cal-OSHA still discovers safety violations.

Austin, Texas: The Austin American-Statesman reports that Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez is asking that Austin assume some oversight in the city, saying it ought to at least have an inventory of cranes operating in the city and know that each has met its federal inspection requirements. Currently, the city plays no role in monitoring cranes. Martinez said he intends to ask the council at its Aug. 7 meeting to pass a resolution calling on city staff to draft an ordinance that would allow the city at least to require crane inspections and halt crane operation on a construction site if inspections were not up to date.

Politics: Democrats in Congress push for an enhanced federal safety standard and put more pressure on the agency charged with overseeing workplace safety, The Wall Street Journal reports.