Crane Rule Update: Employers Voice Enforcement Concerns

Will OSHA hold general contractors liable when workers are hurt in a crane collapse that resulted because of poorly trained crane assemblers?

Two employer representatives expressed this concern during the public comment period at the Oct. 1 meeting of the Crane and Derrick Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee (C-DAC).

The crane committee spent much of the day discussing requirements and employer procedures for erecting and dismantling cranes.

In his statement to the committee, Bill Mott, director of safety at Hunt Construction Group, conceded, "we're very early in the process" of writing the standard, but he told the committee that the "controlling employer issue will permeate through all these different [crane and derrick] issues."

Jim Brown, director of safety and health for Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Indiana, expressed a similar concern.

In an interview after his public comment, Brown explained that while AGC does not deny the controlling employer has some responsibility, it is concerned about how OSHA will enforce the new crane rule.

OSHA's current multi-employer citation policy allows it to cite the controlling employer in construction projects, but until recently it was based solely on letters of interpretation. That changed with adoption of the revised steel erection standard, where for the first time the policy was incorporated into an OSHA regulation.

"We're concerned that the same verbiage will go into the crane standard," said Mott in an interview. He explained that general contractors could not control or determine the training of crane assemblers, who are often third or fourth tier sub-contractors.

Both Mott and Brown want OSHA to clarify the existing multi-employer policy with respect to cranes and derricks.

"Under contract law we're clean, but under OSHA law, we're not clean," said Mott. "If somebody gets killed, how far up the line does it go?"

As a result of the confusion, according to Mott, it is difficult for a general contractor to know if he or she has enough insurance to cover the worst-case scenario. Enshrining the multi-employer policy in the steel erection standard poses fewer problems to general contractors than it would if it found its way into the revised crane rule.

"Steel erection deals with the controlling employer for a specific activity," said Mott. "But cranes and derricks are used in all facets of construction, and the [multi-employer policy] would place an unrealistic additional liability on employers."

Brown said that these concerns are shared by AGC's national organization, and he expects the multi-employer issue will be addressed in future C-DAC meetings.

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