Risky business?

Our view: Crane operations should be reviewed

May 02, 2008

A series of fatal crane accidents, including one in Annapolis on Wednesday, have Maryland officials rethinking safety regulations for this equipment. There isn't much on the books regarding construction cranes, despite their long-standing use in the industry. Closer scrutiny of this aspect of the trade couldn't hurt.

And here's why: Crane operators don't carry special licenses, and operator certification programs are voluntary. But accidents such as the one in Parole Plaza outside Annapolis and the more deadly collapse of a 20-story crane at a construction site in Manhattan in March often occur when a boom or piece of the crane is lowered or extended. And workers other than crane operators are usually performing those duties.

In Maryland, state officials have been reviewing the use of heavy equipment since last year. The recent accidents such as the collapse of the New York crane, which killed seven people and crushed a town house, have heightened awareness.

The state's Labor and Industry Division recently sent 55 inspectors for retraining on crane operations, and the agency plans to launch a public safety campaign to review the on-the-job risks posed by such equipment. Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health agency also will discuss the issue in a meeting with industry leaders next week.

But the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration should really take the lead in this area to ensure that training for crane operators coincides with changes in the industry. About 80 workers each year die from crane-related incidents, according to OSHA.

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