July 19, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

The Houston Chronicle has reporters covering the devastating crane collapse which occurred on Friday, July 18 at 1:20 pm local time.  The crane was owned and operated by Deep South Crane & Rigging which has official statements posted on the company website.  The Chronicle reports that the four deceased and the seven injured workers were contractor-employees at the LyondellBasell refinery.  The fatally injured workers were  Marion “Scooter” Hubert Odom III, 41; John D. Henry, 33; Daniel “DJ” Lee Johnson, 30; and Rocky Dale Strength, 30. 

A related story in the Chronicle Failing Structures, Few Regulations, notes that 15 States and five cities have specific regulations requiring crane operators to be licensed.  The Executive Director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, Grant Brent, says:

“Neither the city of Houston or the state of Texas has shown any interest in having any statewide licensing of crane operator, or riggers, signal persons, or crane inspectors.”

The story goes on to say:

“OSHA’s existing rules for crane operators have not been updated since 1971. The agency has been considering a federal mandate for certification of crane operators, but it has not yet acted on the recommendation after reaching a consensus with industry groups in 2004, according to an Associated Press investigation.”

Too bad the reporter just relied on the AP and didn’t check out The Pump Handle’s coverage of the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao’s failure to improve federal crane safety rules.  

If she had read “Crashing Cranes, Death and the White House’s Edict” and “Crane Industry Disgusted with OSHA Delay” she would have been able to give her readers more than just the obvious: OSHA “has not yet acted.” The reporter would have been able to share the insight of some of the individuals who have first-hand experience (and frustration) with OSHA’s failure to move on a crane safety rule.  As I wrote June 16:

In anyone can speak to the spirit of negotiated rulemaking it is Susan Podziba, an individual with decades of experience as a mediator, negotiator and consensus builder, having worked NegReg processes for numerous federal and state agencies.  Professional facilitators are known for their commitment to a fair and effective process, while avoiding personal judgement about the topic at hand.  Yet, her June 12 op-ed ”Safety Starts at the Top” revealed Ms. Podziba’s frustration that the crane safety NegReg’s committee’s product seemed to be in perpetual limbo at the Department of Labor.  She wrote:     

“It’s still not clear what caused the two recent crane accidents in New York City, which killed nine people. Across the country, dozens die each year in similar accidents: 72 workers in 2006 alone, the most recent year for which federal figures are available. Yet OSHA has been sitting on crane-safety regulations that could prevent more deaths.  As I watched the news coverage of the second of the crane accidents last month, I felt sick to my stomach.” (emphasis added)

“From the first day of deliberation the parties operated under this assumption: If this balanced group of stakeholders and the government could agree on a standard, then OSHA would publish it in the Federal Register as its proposed rule.  …Having conducted 15 negotiated rulemakings for five federal agencies, I expected OSHA to publish the rule in 2006.”

Other crane safety industry experts, who are disgusted with this Administration’s tweedle-dumb attitude, are individuals who on OSHA’s own crane safety NegReg Committee.  In March 2008, they sent a letter to Labor Secretary Chao expressing their “extreme dissapointment in the lack of progress” by OSHA on a crane safety rule.  They said:

“The lack of progress on this important safety and health standard remains a disservice to the entire industry affected by this Standard.  We strongly urge you ensure this Standard and its publication receive the immediate attention it requires.”

Instead of wasting taxpayers’ hard earned dollars on figuring out schemes to avoid issuing worker-protective rules (such as the diversion Chao is creating with her risk assessment proposal), the Administration should take the first step to prevent DEATHS from these crashing cranes.  PUBLISH the proposed rule on crane safety and get this ball moving!

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