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Regulation a force for good?

Most of us have very mixed feelings about regulations, on the one hand we want to be left alone to run our businesses - or for that matter our lives -as we see fit without government interference. Many feel that government has only a minor role to play, in enforcing a limited set of rules and guidelines that help ensure that the market functions fairly, legally and efficiently.
Yes even the die-hard free-market ‘let the buyer beware’, ‘anything goes’, free-swinging red blooded capitalist, when pressed would agree that some basic, minimum legal and safety standards need to be set out and enforced. After all none of us wants to go back to the days where big industrial steam boilers regularly blew up with fatal and gruesome consequences. Or to a time when children were forced up chimneys and a miner’s chance of living to retirement age were minimal.  
However start talking about emissions regulations or new safety standards for cranes and aerial lifts and the pendulum of opinion swings the other way, with a majority - or at least large minority - being totally against such regulation. Industry associations, more often than not fight new regulations, and if they can’t stop them completely or obtain opt-out rights, work hard to water them down. Although this does tend ensure that new regulations are measured, sensible and achievable and so plays a vital role.
The introduction of increasingly tough emission regulations is widely seen negative for our industry, in that it requires vast amounts of engineering hours to redesign machines without seeming to offer customers a ‘better mousetrap’. Climate change sceptics are particularly negative about such requirements. However it struck me recently that the legal obligation to design-in new engines has in fact spurred a massive flurry of creativity among manufacturers, that may otherwise not have occurred.
We have seen a stream of new cranes from most manufacturers with exciting new features and improved performance, while a very healthy and vigorous debate is going on over the pros and cons of one engine or two in road going cranes. I have not seen such animated debates since crane manufacturers started fitting single boom lift cylinders in place of two, or when the first nylon sheaves began to replace steel.
Truck mounted lift manufacturers have looked long and hard at structural designs – largely to reduce weight so that they can keep a given working height on the same size chassis, but the resulting knowledge has positive knock on effects throughout their ranges. We have also seen the introduction of new hybrid power sources for aerial lifts, electric powered Rough Terrain scissor lifts, lithium battery packs for spider lifts, and the introduction of more AC direct drive systems, all of which are positive for end users and stimulate the rental market by opening up differentiations opportunities – allowing us to talk specification rather than price.
No, while we might be fed up with manufacturers going on about Tier 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 Final etc…the changes have led to a fantastic period of creativity and new product introductions. And even if you don’t believe the climate change argument, the fact is we do live in a much cleaner, quieter world. None of which would have happened without legally enforced regulation.
The changes also have benefits for manufacturers, the market and rental companies. With new models and new features helping stimulate the market, I recall many years ago talking to a large crane rental company about his plans to buy new cranes. His comment was “why should I? The new model is almost exactly the same as my 10 year old crane, which is almost written off, I spend all that money but my customers will not notice it. Better to spend some money upgrading my old one”. That is certainly not the case today.
New regulations also help make the oldest cranes and lifts obsolete. It can be argued that rental rates are held down by those companies running ancient cranes, telehandlers or lifts and using them to undercut market rates, while arguably creating safety issues, which does none of us any good.
In summary the introduction of new regulations and standards does seem to be having a positive effect on the industry as a whole, at least at the moment.