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Conference to improve crane safety

Following the collapse of the Seattle tower crane last month, a crane-safety conference of contractors, operators and government officials called by the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) have agreed the industry needs to take steps to improve safety and restore confidence.

Measures agreed on Monday included certification for cranes and operators as well as other aspects of crane operation, such as transporting parts, assembly and inspections.

"Our main concern is public safety," said Mike Brennan, deputy director of development services for the city of Bellevue, “the city has suffered losses on several levels because of the crane problems.”

"We lost business. We lost buildings. We lost public confidence. Most significantly, we lost a life," he said. "We are not satisfied the level of crane safety is adequate as it stands now."

The cause of the collapse on November 16th is still not known. Since then, cracks have been found in two other cranes in Bellevue.

About 50 attended Monday's session - partly in response to announcements that no public agency inspects or supervises tower-crane installations or operations. However State building codes do require cranes be operated according to manufacturer's specifications. The results of the meeting included a list of what might be done to improve safety and restore public confidence in the construction industry. It included:

• Adopting measures that could result in greater workplace and public safety;
• Recognizing that responsibility for safety at work sites belongs to employers;
• Recognizing that if operator-licensing standards are adopted, that does not relieve employers of responsibility for overall site safety;
• Recognizing that L&I is committed to a collaborative process with legislators, business and labor to improve crane safety;
• Providing that any state guidelines must be adopted with an awareness of possible federal legislation.

Several speakers warned against rushing to pass laws that would later prove ineffective or unduly bureaucratic. However there would be weeks or months of work ahead before the adoption on any rules. It was thought that improved crane-safety laws could be adopted in the 2007 legislative session.

"Let's not rush forward," urged Lee Newgent, assistant to the executive secretary of the Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council. "What I do see are abuses of manufacturers' recommendations. Our mission is to make it safer, not to make it more restrictive."