Crane changes sought

Md. proposes new rules after fatal accident

Sun exclusive

August 07, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,SUN REPORTER

Three months after a fatal crane accident near Annapolis, the state's labor department is proposing sweeping new crane safety regulations that would make Maryland's rules among the strictest in the country.

Crane operators, riggers and signal people would be required to fulfill uniform training standards under the new regulations, and the state would increase requirements for inspections and accident investigations.

An advisory board of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health program voted unanimously yesterday to recommend the new regulations. A state legislative committee must sign off on the proposal.

"I believe what we're doing here in Maryland will be mirrored in other areas of the country," said Robert Hileman, president of Baltimore-based United Crane & Rigging, which was part of a broad coalition of construction companies, labor unions and regulatory officials that drafted the proposed regulations.

House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat whose district includes Parole, where a worker was crushed by a crane April 30, said he believes the General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee will "most likely approve the regulations."

The Maryland crane accident followed fatal crane collapses in New York and Miami, and several states have responded by trying to beef up safety regulations while waiting for the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration to revise its own rules. On Monday, a truck crane tipped over on its side during the installation of noise barriers on a road in Gaithersburg. No injuries were reported in that accident.

About 15 states require some training certification or licensure for crane operators, but Maryland would be the first to establish uniform training standards for riggers and signal people, said Joel Oliva, an official with the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.

Riggers attach loads to cranes. Signal people guide the operator with verbal or hand signs as loads are hoisted, lifted, moved and released.

Among the proposed new regulations:

* Crane operators, riggers and signal people must have completed training equivalent to a nationally recognized certification program.

* Cranes must be inspected daily when in use, and also undergo a comprehensive annual inspection.

* Employers must notify the labor department two days before setting up a lift that uses multiple cranes, or installing or dismantling a tower crane.

Experts say cranes are most dangerous when being put up or taken down; the fatal Parole accident occurred as the crane was being dismantled. Under the draft regulations, a "master rigger" - with at least five years' experience - would have to be on site supervising work whenever a tower crane is erected, lengthened, or dismantled.

In his presentation to the advisory board yesterday, Labor and Industry Commissioner James R. "Ron" DeJuliis noted that the regulations were drafted to skirt a 1990 provision in state law prohibiting the labor department from requiring operators of power equipment to be certified.

"We rewrote our standards to meet all the criteria of certification without literally" requiring certification, said DeJuliis, who chaired the committee that wrote the regulations. "We intend to go to Annapolis and revoke that law."

Busch said he did not know why the legislature precluded the department from requiring certification, but that he believed lawmakers would now "do everything they can to be supportive of setting standards that are as protective and safe as possible."

DeJuliis, a former crane operator, said the recent spate of fatal crane accidents has made the construction industry more receptive to government oversight. "Back in 1990, we couldn't have gotten these people into the same room," he said in an interview after the vote.

Between 1992 and 2006, 323 construction workers died in 307 crane accidents - an average of 22 deaths per year - according to a June study by the Silver Spring-based Center for Construction Research and Training.

Crane safety made national headlines this year after a March 15 crane collapse in New York City killed six workers and a bystander. Ten days later, a crane accident killed two construction workers in Miami. Then, on May 30, another crane fall took the lives of two construction workers in New York.

Mike Lenkin, vice president of engineering at Bethesda-based Miller and Long Concrete Construction, the crane subcontractor at the Parole site, said his firm supports the proposed regulations.

"I was a little concerned at first as to where this was going to go," Lenkin told the Occupational Safety and Health board yesterday. But after participating in the crane safety work group, he said, "I definitely wish for you to approve these regulations. ... The ability and goal of everyone here was to raise safety."

If approved by the legislative committee, the new regulations could go into effect within three months.

Proposed changes

* Crane operators, riggers and signal crews must have training consistent with national standards.

* Cranes must be inspected daily when in use and undergo comprehensive annual inspections.

* A master rigger must be on site and conduct daily safety briefings whenever cranes are set up or dismantled.

* Ddrug and alcohol testing are required of crane employees within 24 hours of serious or fatal accidents.

Source: Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation

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