OSHA Publishes Long-Anticipated Cranes and Derricks Rule

The long-awaited new OSHA rule governing use of cranes and derricks has been published in today's Federal Register. At 241 pages, it explains everything in the proposed rule, plus what is excluded from it and why. Comments and hearing requests are due by Dec. 8, 2008, giving the public just 60 days to review it and comment. Interested parties can submit comments, referencing Docket ID OSHA-2007-0066 or RIN No. 1218-AC01, via www.regulations.gov.

The rule covers equipment used in construction only • not cranes used in general industry or in factories. The rule is a complete revision of Section 1926.550 of Subpart N of 29 CFR part 1926, the construction standards; Subpart N is one of the originally adopted OSHA regulations, meaning it relies significantly on national consensus standards that were in place in 1971.

Key elements of the proposed rule include requirements that employers determine whether the ground is sufficient to support the anticipated weight of hoisting equipment and associated loads before the lift begins; assess hazards within the work zone that would affect safe operation, including power lines; and ensure the equipment is in safe operating condition and employees in the work zone are trained to recognize hazards associated with use of the equipment.

The rule was developed through negotiated rulemaking, a process that employs a committee of industry experts to draft the text. The full text is available here.

It does not cover forklifts, which were already governed by an existing OSHA construction standard (Sec. 1926.602 of Subpart O, Motor Vehicles, Mechanized Equipment, and Marine Operations). This proposed rule defines covered equipment according to the equipment's elemental functions: hoisting, lowering, and horizontally moving a suspended load. Yet dedicated pile drivers have been included after considerable discussion and specific language so users aren't encouraged to use them to lift anything beyond recommended usage; multi-purpose machines also are addressed, but only when configured for use to hoist and horizontally move a suspended load.

Proposed Sec. 1926.1403 would require employers to choose among two options: assemble and disassemble cranes and derricks by following the manufacturer's procedures, or use their own assembly/disassembly procedures (if they meet the proposed rule's criteria in Sec. 1926.1406). An assembly/disassembly supervisor's duties and responsibilities are spelled out in the rule. The supervisor would have to meet the definition of both a "competent" and "qualified" person as OSHA defines those terms • meaning the supervisor has the authority to correct a hazard or stop the process.

Also, the proposed standard would require using a systematic, proactive approach to dealing with the hazard of power lines. The employer would have the option of doing the assessment for the area 360 degrees around the crane or for a more limited, demarcated area; if the assessment showed the crane can get closer to an energized line than a trigger distance • 20 feet for lines rated up to 350 kV, 50 feet for lines rated over 350 kV • then encroachment/electrocution prevention measures would have to be implemented to prevent the crane from breaching a minimum clearance distance and protect against electrocution.

Sec. 1926.1427 spells out crane operator qualification and certification; Sec. 1926.1430 addresses training; safety devices and operational aids are in Sec. 1926.1415 and Sec. 1926.1416, and periodic inspections are in Sec. 1926.1412.