Understanding the Changes to OSHA Crane Regulations

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published “Cranes and Derricks in Construction: Final Rule” on August 9, 2010, and it is set to take effect on November 7, 2010. OSHA hopes that this new standard will prevent 22 fatalities and 175 nonfatal injuries annually. Although it is difficult to evaluate how effective the new rules will be, all contractors must comply with them. Here is an overview of the new standard, which is intended to not only combat fatality and injury associated with working with cranes and derricks but also to account for technological advances in this equipment.

Understanding the Changes to OSHA Crane Regulations



Power Line Safety

The "10-foot rule" has changed and now mandates a minimum distance of 20' unless the voltage is verified or special precautions are taken. Although this change modifies a rule that has existed for over 40 years, it will not come as a major change for most contractors. Experienced crane operators and certified riggers are extremely cautious around live electricity. Most erection contractors will request overhead lines to be brought down when they're near a significant project. This change will actually help erectors remove the overhead lines whether the lines are electrified or not.

Operator Certification

Although hotly debated at the public hearings, operator certification is now required. (Personally speaking, this change surprised me both for the debate it caused and for the absence of any previous requirement for certification. As a union contractor I know that every single crane or large piece of equipment must be operated by a licensed and certified operating engineer.) When I was a member of the U.S. Army, my soldiers had to take additional classes for licensing on any piece of equipment they were responsible for operating, including military automobiles. Additionally, I find it difficult to believe that erection contractors can fulfill their insurance requirements while using unlicensed operators. This change will not take effect until August 2014.

Ground Conditions

The changes governing ground conditions are not significant for steel erectors because the new language is modeled after that already governing steel erection contractors. Essentially these changes ensure that the operator of a crane or derrick has the right to access plans and survey information regarding the ground conditions, underground utilities, and other job site conditions that may effect the safety of the crane. This comes as a welcome change to the OSHA regulations and basically gives operators more information and control over how and where they set up their equipment. However, some operators may object to these changes because they assign more responsibility to the operators for the safe operation of their equipment.

Signal Personnel

Another welcome change to the OSHA standards is the requirement for qualified signal personnel. The language does not require an active certification program but it gives operators and contractors a basis for establishing standards for all signal personnel. A qualified signal person must be able to effectively communicate in the primary, secondary, and sometimes tertiary forms of signaling the crane or derrick. This means that a qualified signal person must understand how to communicate via radio, voice, or hand and make sure that the operator knows what commands will be used prior to starting lifting operations.

Assembly and Disassembly

The assembly/disassembly rules have changed extensively. The foreman or lead operator will now be called the assembly/disassembly director (A/D) and will be in  charge of safely dismantling the crane according to the manufacturer's instructions. The A/D has additional responsibilities, but none of these are very surprising: most responsible contractors already perform all the steps required by OSHA. One welcome change in this section modifies the fall protection rules during assembly and disassembly operations to 15'. In the past I have had to convince safety personnel and job site management that it is dangerous to tie off on top of sections of boom that are being put together or taken apart. A multitude of things can go wrong when assembling or disassembling a crane, and workers need the ability to move swiftly if something goes wrong.

"Cranes and Derricks in Construction: Final Rule" is over 200 pages long, so I haven’t covered all of the changes, only a small sample. I highly recommend that you have your safety supervisor download this document and give all your supervisors a class on the changes. The fact sheet can be found on OSHA’s website. "Cranes and Derricks in Construction: Final Rule" can be found here and the original regulatory text can be found here.

Robert Amstead

Robert is a project manager for a steel erection firm with projects in Northern California, Southern California, and Nevada. His current project types include wind energy, occupied building seismic retrofits, existing bridge seismic retrofits, and new bridge erection. Robert graduated from the University of Missouri Rolla with a Masters in Engineering Management and from the United States Military Academy with a Bachelors Degree in International Relations. Robert has also worked in the luxury residential sector in Florida and as an Officer in the Corps of Engineers.

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