Senate Democrats Push for New Crane Safety Standard

Democrats in Congress are pressuring OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue a new crane safety standard. Nine Senators penned a letter this week signed by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, calling it “unfathomable” that DOL hasn't yet implemented the industry's recommendation for a new standard, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

In response, OSHA's Sharon Worthy said the agency is dispatching more inspectors to its own training-institute class focusing on crane safety, and is organizing training events with local unions and industry groups. Worthy is quoted as saying that overall construction workplace fatalities • 18 this year in crane-related accidents alone -- are at their lowest in history.

The Wall Street Journal article cited OSHA estimates of 96,000 cranes in use annually at construction sites. The agency couldn't say, though, whether the number of cranes in use has increased in 2008.

This year's spate of deadly crane accidents has been attributed by some in the industry to both a shortage of inspectors and an increase in inexperienced contractors and workers flooding the industry during the recent construction boom. Others say developers and contractors are under pressure to complete projects in a weak economy.

Frank Burg, a Woodstock, Ill., safety consultant, and chair of the ANSI crane safety standards committee, was quoted in the article as saying he believes more qualified inspectors are a must, as is the threat to crane companies of large fines for not upgrading crane maintenance and safety practices on their own.