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New US crane rules will save 22 lives

The US Crane & Derricks in Construction Final Rule standards have been released and will be published in the Federal Register on August 9th 90 days later an up to four year transition period begins before all sections effectively become law.

The new standards replace 1926.550 that came into force in 1971 and referenced a wide variety of disparate design standards. 1926.550 was only amended twice in its 40 years. In 1988 the conditions under which employees on personnel platforms may be hoisted by cranes and in 1993 when 1926.550(a)(19) was added to require that all employees be kept clear of lifted and suspended loads.

The US Department of Labor says that the new rule will affect around 257,000 busness establishments and 4.8 million workers. The new Rule is intended to reduce crane fatalities on construction sites in the USA which are estimated at around 100 a year.

The Department estimates that the new standards will save 22 lives and yield a saving for the economy of $55 million a year after allowing for the costs of implementation.

Key changes include:

-Operator certification and training
All (construction related )employees working with cranes, including riggers, signalmen oilers etc… will need to have had proper training and be qualified or declared competent for the job they carry out, while crane operators will also need to be independently certified for work on the specific crane type.

- New detailed standards for overhead power lines
The standard includes a large section on working near or under or driving under overhead power lines with strict details of safe distances and work practices that must be followed.

- Tower crane inspections
Tower crane components must now be fully inspected prior the crane being erected.

- Ground conditions and outriggers
The standard goes into considerable detail on ground conditions and outrigger or stabiliser set up and the need to understand the ground conditions.

The new rules place greater responsibilities on general contractors in many areas, for example they will now be obliged to inform anyone working with a crane on site of the presence of any underground voids or poor ground conditions.

The Final Rule text is now in our library section Click here to read or download.

Vertikal Comment

A quick look though the final document suggests that this is now a very comprehensive and well polished standard. It is highly detailed in most areas to the point where it almost borders on being prescriptive.

Many of the new items introduced appear obvious and will surprise those used to European crane rules that they were not in the former 1926-550 standard. It must be remembered though that these are federal standards/ rules and that many local or state rules are already in force that cover many of the items included.

Going forward this will become the minimum standard for the country as a whole and any state or local rules that are stronger will still apply.

All in all it looks good and will surely be a major aid to crane safety, there is still much to do though, including the bringing on line of more training and testing places to cope with the vast number of operators that will need to be certified over the next four years.


vertikal editor
Dear Chuck,
Many thanks for your thorough comment, we also understood that the rules are focussed on construction and clearly will not affect work places such as industrial plants - expect where thre is construction going on - dock and poirt cranes etc...

We also think that the £55 million is totally missleading and when questioned the Department was unable to justify this saving but said that under the rules they are opbliged to include a cost benefit analysis and theus they came up wiht $55 million. I think you are right about the training cost..and the risks of allowing someone into the cab of a crane purely bsed on passing a test. Several certification operations have already said that in order to be certified you will have to prove a minimum number of hours on the job working as a rigger or an oiler on cranes. Whether this will generate a two tier certification process with some centres being easier than others remains to be seen.

And finally it will most certainly be business as usual - it alsmot always is - but over time the new rules will gradually become the norm, even at a local level - it will take a lot longer than four years to reach that position though.

Many thanks again

Jul 29, 2010

Craniac 1
Please note that during today's OSHA Web Chat, the very first question posed asked whether or not the new standard also affects the General Industry work classification and the answer was "No", only Construction Work rules are changing. This appears to conflict with your overview of "key changes" listed above under "operator certification and training".

Secondly, I feel the cost estimate of $55 million is somewhat misleading. The rules state that employers are required to pay for the training, testing, etc. I believe most employers will avoid this cost with new hires by simply requiring all new employees to be trained/certified prior to consideration for a position. No card and you're not going to be an employee, therefore, no reimbursement for costs incurred. The alternative from an employers standpoint is to spend large sums of money on an employee who may then very well become a "free agent" in a matter of days or weeks and sell his skills to the highest bidder, leaving the business that paid the price high and dry.

Thirdly, I can foresee the possibility of the new rules leading to further consolidation in the rental market, especially in smaller locales, with some mid-career or older owners or operators simply leaving the profession. Some of these will undoubtedly be the seasoned, highly skilled professionals that need to be retained. In my opoinion, it is a mistake to certify operators based on a few simple tests while not concurrently requiring some manner of experience in the seat. I personally know operators that became certified without ever having been in an operators seat prior to the practical skills test. Placing a hook ball in a barrel in plain sight is comparitively easy compared to controlling a hook or load that is out of sight at potentially long radius and height. Nonetheless, with the card, they can find employment fairly easily (during normal times) and effectively start their "on the job" training at the potential expense of everyone in the fall zone.

Finally, as an owner and operator, I think many contractors and subcontractors are going to continue with a "business as usual" attitude. In my own local experience I can honestly say that, without exception, all of the clients I have asked about preparation for the new standards re: their employees acting as riggers and signal persons, etc., have been met with blank stares or worse.
Sorry to be so long winded, but I think there is a lot of work to do!
Chuck Mostert

Jul 29, 2010