While crane companies bear the brunt of safety obligations for operators and equipment, general contractors and developers aren’t off the hook, industry experts say.
Accidents involving construction cranes have dominated U.S. headlines in recent months. In April a tower crane toppled onto a downtown Seattle street, killing four people and injuring three others. Then a few weeks ago, a crane collapsed in Dallas during a windstorm, killing one person, injuring several others and causing extensive damage to a downtown apartment building.
Although the causes of these accidents are under investigation, most crane incidents come down to human error, Alabama-based crane inspector James Pritchett told Construction Dive.
“That can come in many forms, [including] not knowing how to operate a crane properly, not inspecting it properly or not maintaining it properly,” said Pritchett, who has investigated dozens of accidents and now trains crane operators across the Southeast U.S.
In fact, Pritchett said he rarely finds a reason for an accident that is not related to human error.
“I come from an operator background,” he said, “so whenever I come to an accident investigation I try my best to find other reasons for the incident, but it’s rarely something besides a problem with the operator.”
New OSHA regulations that went into effect in April are designed to minimize accidents by strengthening crane operators’ knowledge and training. The regulations, which revise the way that operators are trained, evaluated and certified, put the responsibility for operator readiness on the employer, according to an OSHA spokesperson. They apply to a range of construction equipment including mobile cranes, tower cranes, service truck cranes, digger derricks and dedicated pile drivers.
Under the rule, crane operators must now be certified or licensed and receive ongoing training to operate new equipment. Operators who were certified before December, however, don’t have to be reassessed. Whereas the previous regulations required crane operators to be certified only by the general size and capacity of crane, the new evaluations must rate operators’ knowledge and skill based on crane type such as tower crane, mobile crane or overhead crane.
Like many regulatory changes, the revised rule comes with added costs. Although OSHA said that the rule is expected to result in a net annual cost savings, the agency determined that the industry’s total annual cost of compliance, which involves performing operator competency evaluations, documenting the evaluations and providing additional training to operators, comes out to around $1.6 million.
Pritchett worries that some companies might try to skirt the new regulations in order to save time or money. “You have to make it cost-efficient enough so that people aren’t reluctant to doing it,” he said.