Recently, a rash of crane-related fatalities has occurred around the country. As a result, Democrats in Congress are pushing for a stronger federal safety standard, one that in my opinion is badly needed. Clearly, because the crane-related deaths are taking place at construction sites, OHSA should be much more involved in seeing that an adequate standard is adopted. Nine Senate Democrats sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, urging her to issue a new safety standard for cranes and derricks. The letter says it was “unfathomable” that OSHA, which is responsible for maintaining worker safety, including inspecting cranes, hadn’t implemented recommendations made in 2004 by industry and labor to issue a new standard to improve crane safety. To say the least, that delay is very hard to justify.
OSHA claims regulatory and legal requirements have slowed the rule-making process. According to OSHA, the agency is sending more inspectors to its training-institute class that focuses on crane safety and organizing training events with local unions and industry groups. So far this year, more than 20 construction workers have died in crane-related accidents. That figure doesn’t include bystanders’ deaths. OSHA estimates there are 96,000 cranes used in construction each year in the U.S. Developers and contractors are under increased pressure to complete projects, since delays can be costly.
Between 1992 and 2006, there was an average of 22 construction-worker deaths a year involving cranes, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Center for Construction Research and Training, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The leading cause of death was electrocution while operating a crane. For example, a crane would contact a power line and then the crane would collapse. Obviously, those working around the crane would be in great danger. Now we are seeing all sorts of crane accidents that don’t involve electricity.
Among those attributing the accidents to a shortage of qualified crane inspectors is Frank Burg, a safety consultant in Woodstock, Illinois, who is chairman of a committee with the American National Standards Institute that sets safety standards for cranes. He says there aren’t enough “qualified people to inspect cranes.” Mr. Burg said he believes that it will never be possible to inspect all of those cranes and that companies need the threat of large fines to upgrade crane-related maintenance and safety practices on their own. Clearly, the federal government should take prompt action and the obvious need is an adequate safety standard for cranes.
The OSHA Region VI office in Dallas has established a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) covering employees in the construction industry who perform crane operations. The program conducts safety inspections of workplaces in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and sites in New Mexico that are under federal OSHA jurisdiction. The REP will address various hazards associated with cranes, including but not limited to, being struck by objects, electrocution, crane tip-over, being caught in or between machinery, and falls. While this appears to be a good move, I still believe a stronger standard is needed. The OSHA standard requires that employers conduct tower crane inspections prescribed by the manufacturer.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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