All the way back in 2003, The Occupational Safety & Health Aministration (OSHA) appointed the Cranes and Derricks Advisory Committee (C-DAC) to develop a consensus document that eventually formed the basis of the proposed rule. In 2010, the agency published the final rule, which went into effect on November 10, 2014 following a four-year phase-in period.
The final rule and OSHA’s interpretation of one of its key provisions developed two confounding requirements that, if in effect, would not only jeopardize the safety of construction site employees and the general public, but also heap unnecessary financial burdens on a broad swath of the construction industry—both of which are contrary to the C-DAC’s original intent.
First is the so-called “deemed qualified” provision of the final rule. As currently written, the final rule provides that a “certified” crane operator is automatically “deemed qualified” to operate the model of crane to which the operator is assigned. This provision would eliminate the employer’s duty to train and qualify operators, a duty that has existed since the passage of the OSH Act in 1970.
The newly formed Coalition for Crane Operator Safety (CCOS), which AEM actively supports, notes that while third-party certification is essential to the advancement of crane safety, it is insufficient on its own to achieve much-needed improvements in this area. In fact, CCOS says, certifying organizations do not represent their certifications as “qualifying” operators to operate specific cranes in all configurations and working conditions.
As a result, the coalition is urging OSHA to rescind the “deemed qualified” language in the final rule and to reinstate the employer duty to train and qualify operators. Coalition members, comprising equipment manufacturers, construction management, labor, insurance underwriters, and accredited certification organizations, all believe follow-up qualification is indispensable because even a high-quality, hands-on exam cannot test on all crane operator functions.
Second is OSHA’s interpretation of the “capacity and type” provision of the final rule. Following issuance of the final rule on August 9, 2010, OSHA issued guidance finding that crane operator certification for a type of crane does not qualify the operator to operate all capacities of crane within that type. For example, OSHA’s interpretation of the rule allows a crane operator certified for a 100-ton hydraulic crane to operate a 50-ton hydraulic crane, but not a 200-ton hydraulic crane of the same type.
However, industry experts agree that there are not enough differences between operation of a 50-ton and a 200-ton crane of the same type to justify more than one certification. At the same time, maintaining the operator certification requirements based on capacity would cost many millions of dollars for both employers and employees, while yielding no discernible improvement in safety. And finally, if OSHA does not rescind its interpretation of “capacity and type,” the certifications already achieved by about 100,000 crane operators could be nullified.
At a May 19, 2014, hearing, construction industry stakeholders expressed their reluctant support for OSHA’s proposed extension of the enforcement date for operator certification only to afford OSHA the opportunity to correct problems created by its failure to put into effect the intent of the C-DAC.
On September 26, OSHA issued a final rule extending the deadline for crane operator certification requirements by three years to November 10, 2017. The agency also extended by three years an employer’s responsibility to ensure that crane operators are competent to operate a crane safely.
Since all but one of the 42 sections in the 2010 Standard have been agreed upon and enacted, the industry is now waiting on OSHA to correct the two ineffectual provisions and present clear and effective certification requirements.
Regrettably, because of the three-year extension of enforcement, there could be a 13-year delay between issuance of the C-DAC’s consensus document and enforcement of the certification
requirements. In the meantime, some employers and individual crane operators have taken a “wait and see” approach to avoid the cost of certifications (or re-certifications) that may be invalidated.
AEM will continue to support CCOS and its call to OSHA to quickly resolve these issues well ahead of the new 2017 deadline. Public safety and the safety of jobsite workers is far too important to wait another three years.