Florida Crane Operator Certification Bill Killed as Senate Session Ends

At the Florida Crane Owners Council meeting on April 28, the mood was optimistic as the group discussed the pending tower crane operator certification bill, which had swiftly moved through the House and was waiting for the Senate's approval. FCOC members had expected the bill to pass the first week in May. “It's unprecedented how this bill has scooted through so quickly,” Bruce Whitten, chairman of the FCOC, said at the meeting. “It's in the hands of the Senate now.”

Further boosting the FCOC's confidence that the bill would quickly become law was the fact that the Senate waived three commission meetings in order for it to be voted on before the session ended, and once it passed, Governor Charlie Crist said that he would sign it into law. However, the FCOC's push for statewide tower crane operator certification came to an end last week after the Florida Legislature's session came to a close • and the bill, still under review by the Judicial Commission, did not make it to the voting stage.

The FCOC, along with the Associated Builders and Contractors, had spent the last three years writing and revising the operator certification bill, which originally encompassed language that would require mobile crane operators, riggers, and signal persons to be certified in the state. Presenting the bill to the House, the FCOC faced opposition from specialized trades, and the bill was later rewritten to require only tower crane operators to be certified. “It morphed into something we never thought it would,” Whitten said. “But we had to take something rather than nothing.”

For now, however, the FCOC will have to take nothing until the Florida Legislature is back in session next fall. In the meantime, Whitten said the council will be “on the re-draft trail,” readying itself for the next Congressional session with revised language. “FCOC has been looking at how other states have done it,” he said, adding that the council may ask the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) to act as an additional lobbyist.

Concerns over South Florida

In Florida, the FCOC is not the only council writing laws that would require crane operator certification. Following a fatal tower crane accident in early 2006, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmondson formed a 20-person crane advisory panel consisting of dealers, rental companies, operators, inspection companies, contractors, and an attorney to make sweeping changes to crane safety • and tower crane operator certification is part of the discussion.

Whitten said that Miami-Dade County may beat the FCOC to the punch on requiring tower crane operators to be certified in South Florida because the panel can bring its recommendations forward at any time, and only a board of commissioners has to approve them. He added that it is possible that the Miami-Dade County panel could add mobile crane operator certification to its recommendations.

Pre-empting the Miami-Dade County requirements with statewide certification was important to the FCOC not only because of the verbiage in the recommendations • Whitten said the engineering portion alone may effectively stop South Florida tower cranes from working because the engineering will change at different stages of the project, and re-engineering may require recertification throughout the project • but also because each local municipality could enact its own ordinance. This could mean more than 67 different regulations within the state, which could require crane owners and operators to have different licenses and separate insurance for each municipality.

Although the FCOC would have liked for this issue to have come to a close this spring, Whitten was not discouraged by the event. “We knew that failure could happen,” he said, adding that when the bill is finally passed, “its success from this will only make the industry safer.”