New Regulatory Challenges for Crane Operators
In 2010, after over a decade of debate and deliberation, OSHA released new regulations for crane and derrick operation in the construction industry. The new ruling mandated that crane operators in the construction field must be certified by a recognized accrediting agency, and further stated that the operator qualification and certification must be supplied by employers at no cost to their workers. The mandate raised significant challenges to crane operators, construction companies and safety managers nationwide, and was representative of an increased emphasis on training and qualifications in a wide range of industries.
OSHA originally set November 10, 2014 as the deadline for crane operators to obtain the certification, giving employers four years to coordinate with agencies such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to get their operator qualifications in order. Last week, however, OSHA extended that deadline by three years to November 10, 2017 in order to re-examine certification methods and re-evaluate the issue of certifying by capacity. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) has urged OSHA to waste no time with this re-evaluation. “An extension of the deadline, already unpopular with many sectors of industry—is worthless without immediate and substantive action to solicit industry comments that will result in a resolution accurately reflecting the intent of the industry group—C-DAC—that OSHA itself assembled to develop this rule,” said NCCCO Executive Director Graham Brent in testimony before the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) on May 23.
To further complicate matters, last month a legal precedent was established in New York City that may further complicate the qualification process for workers affected by OSHA’s crane standard. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court ruling last month that stated construction contractors must comply with all regulations affecting the area in which an operator is performing work—city, state and federal—even when those regulations differ. Currently, 18 states and 6 cities have licensing requirements for crane operators.
The Steel Industry of New York (SINY), a trade group representing construction contractors, claimed that workers should not be held accountable to two sets of regulations. The federal OSHA guidelines, they reasoned, should trump the regulations laid out by the City of New York. Requiring operators to comply with both sets of regulations essentially meant two sets of qualifications for the same job.
The courts, however, interpreted the situation differently. Federal OSHA guidelines, they stated, are in place to protect the workers. However, city guidelines are in place to protect the public. Therefore, the two sets of rules cover two different aspects of safety management, and both are valid and require compliance. This new ruling further complicates certifications and training for safety professionals and contractor managers nationwide. Now that the precedent has been set in New York, it is reasonable to expect similar rulings in other cities to follow. Bill Shuzman, Executive Director of SINY expressed concern that differing and conflicting regulations between jurisdictions would result in less safe working conditions.
“The effects of this decision could prove costly for the industry should other local jurisdictions across the country begin adopting similar local regulations,” Shuzman said in response to the ruling. Contractors and the companies that employ them must redouble their efforts to remain in compliance with an ever-growing array of municipal, state-wide and federal regulations—and contractor management systems must proactively address these requirements by notifying both contractors and corporations of deficiencies and working to streamline the certification process for everyone involved.