OSHA Crane Rule Consensus Reveals Progress, Lingering Disputes

July 16, 2004
The fact that OSHA's Crane and Derrick Negotiated Rulemaking Committee (CDAC) reached consensus on most major issues within one year after beginning shows the agency learned valuable lessons from its previous negotiated rulemaking effort with the steel erection standard, participants and observers say.

The committee did not address drug testing or the physical qualifications of crane operators. While consensus was reached on another contentious issue, the certification of crane operators, two powerful stakeholder groups rejected the final compromise.

Still, few doubt that the completion of the consensus draft is a significant step forward, although OSHA still has the final say on any final rule and the agency must now review the document approved by the committee. OSHA has given no timetable for completion of the rule, noting simply in a July 13 statement that the draft "will continue through the rulemaking process."

After much discussion, according to OSHA the committee finally agreed that crane operators would have to be certified either:

1) By a crane operator testing organization approved by a nationally recognized accrediting agency;

2) Or by the employer's own qualification program, which must be audited by a testing organization approved auditor.

Only one organization, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), is qualified to test under option one, or audit under option two, according to Rob Matuga, director of safety for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), one of the two stakeholder groups that opposed this provision. The other CDAC member to vote against the provision was the representative for Associated General Contractors (AGC).

"We were looking for more flexibility, to allow tests developed by universities or trade schools," said Matuga. "It's cost prohibitive for small businesses to send every crane operator through the NCCCO."

A majority on the committee wanted third party oversight of employer crane training programs.

"In order for it to work properly, the testing organization must be separate from the training or operating side of the house," explained committee member Mike Brunet, manager of product safety at Manitowoc Cranes Inc. "NCCCO does the testing, but not the training."

Despite the lingering disagreement over operator certification, committee members and observers said the negotiated rulemaking process was a success. In addition to completing its work on time and in less than 12 months, the draft represents major progress in such issues as:

  • Power line safety;
  • Hazards associated with crane assembly and disassembly;
  • Qualifications of crane signalers;
  • Crane certification.

"OSHA definitely learned some lessons from the steel erection rule," said Jim Brown, an observer of both CDAC and the previous steel erection negotiated rulemaking. Brown represents AGC of Indiana.

"I think it was a good move to have a professional facilitator (Susan Podziba) so that we stuck to the topic, kept moving, and no single person dominated the discussion," commented Brunet.

Matuga also gave OSHA and CDAC high marks, despite his disappointment with the crane operator provision.

"We're pleased with negotiated rulemaking," he said. "We think it's an excellent process OSHA should do this in the future with other rules as well."

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