OSHA Crane Standard a Bad Fit for Small Home Builders
Reflecting a poor understanding of the home building industry, a proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for cranes will increase construction costs without providing a corresponding increase in safety, according to comments from NAHB filed with the agency earlier this month.
Wichita, Kan. builder Carl Harris of Carl Harris Company, Inc. represented NAHB and other small businesses in the home building industry on a panel studying the impact of the proposed rule, which covers cranes weighing more than 2,000 pounds. OSHA will consider NAHB’s comments, along with those from other trade groups, in a report due this week.
The problem with the rule, said Harris in a Sept. 8 letter to OSHA, is that it treats all construction activity the same, without taking into account the unique nature of home building, especially when small or custom builders are involved.
Small companies usually rent machines to perform specific tasks such as setting roof trusses or precast concrete, and they rely on the rental company to supply the crane operator along with the crane.
“Most small builders don’t hire operators; the operators come with the crane. Therefore, we don’t train them,” Harris wrote. “We do not have the expertise to hire operators. We expect the crane rental company to have that expertise and to supply expert operators.”
The OSHA proposal includes new setup rules to help ensure that cranes don’t tip over or come too close to power lines. It also adds new third-party certification, inspection and training requirements for cranes and crane operators. Under OSHA’s multi-employer work-site regulations, the home builder could be liable for ensuring that these requirements are met.
Assessing job-site conditions for safe crane operation, a requirement in the proposal, also exceeds the expertise of small builders and should be left to the owner of the crane, Harris said. “The operator needs to ask if the ground is soft, or if there are collapsible underground lines, or if there is enough space for outriggers, or whatever else that crane needs for safe operation,” he wrote.
Also under the proposal, forklifts used to move materials are not covered, but they are covered when they are used like cranes. This is confusing, Harris said, because it is unclear whether the regulations would require a forklift operator to be trained in crane safety if a boom and winch are attached to the machine. “Construction sites are now populated with multi-purpose or hybrid machines that can do many tasks,” he added.
Construction costs are another concern. OSHA’s official estimate of the costs of the safety procedures that would be required, including training, would be about $400 per company. However, in California, where the state OSHA has already implemented the standard, compliance is adding $12 to $15 an hour to crane rental costs. “With my 2,500 hours of crane usage per year, that would come to an extra $30,000 to $37,500,” Harris said.
Trade groups representing suppliers, such as the brick and drywall industries, say that the new training requirements also would be reflected in the costs of these materials, Harris pointed out.
Harris said that the rule would make more sense if it applied to cranes with capacities of 60 to 70 tons or more. “I believe OSHA’s own records will show that most of the catastrophes that occur are for gigantic cranes on huge job sites. They have not shown us that there is a significant danger in those smaller cranes,” he said.
“If OSHA developed a training program that was appropriate for the kinds of machinery and the kinds of working conditions and job-site conditions that prevail in single-family and light commercial construction, that could enhance safety at such job sites,” he said. “However, OSHA has proposed a training program designed for the construction of dams, highway interchanges, skyscrapers and other enormous projects. Rules to govern the practices of one industry are not going to be helpful in the other, because the practices are so different.”
The rule would be easy to fix if OSHA understood how home builders operate, Harris said. “If you really boil this down, I think that if we could convince OSHA, we should be able to self-certify with the smaller cranes that we use in residential and multifamily and light commercial construction, just like we do with the powered industrial truck forklift standards.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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