As United States construction activity heats up, the frequency of crane accidents has also increased, along with the penalties, enforcement actions and liabilities associated with these incidents. From a compensatory damages standpoint, the financial impact resulting from these crane incidents has been in the millions of dollars. So who is responsible for crane safety and the financial consequences created if a loss occurs?
The Shifting Rules of Crane Safety Standards
In November 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated construction crane safety regulatory standards under 29 CFR part standard number (1926.1400 – 1442). Various states and municipalities have separate crane safety standards that must be in alignment with OSHA’s minimum standard, but, in many cases, additional regulations are imposed. In May 2011, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) refined the B30.5-2011 Mobile and Locomotive Cranes Standard. This update may come as a surprise to any party on a construction project that routinely works with cranes. The updated rule imposes regulatory responsibilities on employers who have personnel working peripherally with cranes and related equipment.
The One-Two Punch Approach
In order to address crane accident causation factors, OSHA developed a “one-two punch” approach that uses the “Multi-Employer Doctrine” and a concept called “controlling entity.” The Multi-Employer Doctrine states, “An employer who controls or creates a worksite safety hazard may be liable under the Act (OSHA) even if the employees threatened by the hazard are solely employees of another employer.” This doctrine is a departure from the way things have worked in the past. Prior to the Multi-Employer Doctrine, OSHA could only cite or fine the employer of the injured employee. In other words, if another entity that engaged in unsafe conduct had contributed to a crane accident, OSHA did not have legal standing to issue a violation.
The “Multi-Employer Doctrine” changed that. There is a new “sheriff” in town, and OSHA can cite multiple parties, not just the employer. The “two” of the one-two punch occurred when OSHA proceeded to create an entirely new concept called, the “controlling entity,” which is unique to the OSHA crane standard. Under this standard, controlling entity is defined as follows: “An employer, who is a prime contractor, general contractor, construction manager or any other legal entity, has overall responsibility for the construction of the project—its planning and completion.” This standard created new regulatory responsibilities for certain jobsite safety issues that occurred among trades other than just the employer, which had always been the main area of OSHA authority.
OSHA (1926.1402) assigns the controlling entities standard specific responsibilities for ensuring that ground conditions necessary for cranes on construction sites are safe. As a result, OSHA’s enforcement capabilities have an extended reach to all contractors employed at a jobsite where there is a working crane. This means that all contractors are responsible for the safety procedures of their own employees when working near the crane, and they are responsible for training their employees to follow safe crane procedures.
Strict Qualifications for Riggers & Signal Persons
OSHA also created requirements for “qualified riggers” and “qualified signal persons,” as well as requirements for employers who have personnel working on construction sites. The rules are designed to ensure the workers are aware of the heightened responsibilities, have received the proper training or have adequate work experience to meet those standards.
OSHA regulations state, “Employers must use qualified riggers during hoisting activities for assembly and disassembly of cranes (1926.1404(r)(1)). Additionally, qualified riggers are required whenever workers are within the fall zone and hooking, unhooking or guiding a load or doing the initial connection of a load to a component or structure.” OSHA mandates that a qualified rigger is a professional who meets the criteria for a qualified person. Employers must determine whether a person is qualified to perform rigging tasks. Although each qualified rigger may have different credentials or experience, he/she is also expected to:
- Possess a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing
- Have training or experience
- Can demonstrate the ability to solve problems related to rigging loads
OSHA mandates that a signal person is required when:
- The point of operation is not in full view of the operator (1926.1419(a))
- The crane operator’s view is obstructed in the direction the equipment is traveling in
- Either the operator or the person handling the load determines that a signal person is needed because of a safety concern
A qualified signal person is considered to be qualified if he/she:
- Knows and understands the type of signals used at the worksite
- Is competent in using those signals
- Understands the operations
ASME Site Supervisor & Lift Director Responsibilities
ASME refined the B30.5-2011 Mobile and Locomotive Cranes Standard. That
standard mirrored the trend set by OSHA and developed new levels of responsibilities for parties and personnel working with cranes. Chapter 5-3 of ASME standard B30.5-2011 creates and defines the following responsibilities:
- Crane owner—Has custodial control of a crane by virtue of lease or ownership
- Crane user—Arranges crane presence on a worksite and controls use
- Site supervisor—Exercises supervisory control over the jobsite on which a crane is being used and over the work that is being performed on that site
- Lift director—Directly oversees the work being performed by a crane and the associated rigging crew
- Crane operator—Directly controls the crane’s functions
Similar to OSHA’s controlling entity requirements, responsibility is conveyed to the site supervisor and lift director under the ASME B30.5 crane standard. The site supervisor’s responsibilities include:
- Determining if additional regulations are applicable to crane operations
- Ensuring that a qualified person is designated as the lift director
- Ensuring crane operations are coordinated with other activities that will be affected by or will affect lift operations. Ground conditions, rigging operations and power lines can fall under the site supervisor’s responsibilities.
The lift director’s responsibilities include:
- Being present during all lifting operations
- Stopping crane operations if alerted to unsafe conditions
- Ensuring that personnel involved in the crane operations understand their responsibilities, assigned duties and associated hazards
- Ensuring that those personnel involved with rigging and crane operator signal operations are qualified persons
- Informing the crane operator of the weight of loads to be lifted and the lifting and placing locations for these loads and obtaining the operator’s verification that this weight does not exceed the crane’s rated lift capacity.
Proactive engagement with risk management experts on this issue is critical for companies with crane exposure.