Guidance on Cranes, Derricks Rule Tops Directorate's Priorities, OSHA Official Says

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Publishing a compliance directive for the recently promulgated cranes and derricks regulation ranks as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's construction directorate's top priority, an agency official said Dec. 2.

“We're trying to get it out as soon as possible, but given the size of the regulation, it's a lot of work,” Eric Harbin, director of OSHA's Office of Construction Services, said. He spoke at a meeting of the National Occupational Research Agenda's Construction Sector Council, a partnership of worker groups, government agencies, and academia, and which is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

OSHA had been hoping to have its guidance ready by the time the rule took effect on Nov. 8, Harbin said.

Under the 234-page rule, published Aug. 9, employers must ensure that towers are inspected before they are erected and pay for crane operators to be certified by a third party. The rule further regulates the use of cranes and derricks around power lines (75 Fed. Reg. 47,906; 40 OSHR 631, 7/29/10).

Many of the questions OSHA has received from the regulated community have addressed the rule's operator certification standards, especially on the issue of state licensing, as well as its rigging standards, Harbin said.

The agency has also received questions about whether the standard applies to forklifts. Harbin said the rule could apply to forklifts if they are used with hoisting devices, but further guidance is forthcoming.

Other Rulemaking Priorities.

Meanwhile, the construction directorate is also continuing work on its proposed rule for protecting construction workers in confined spaces, published Nov. 28, 2007 (72 Fed. Reg. 67,352; 37 OSHR 1067, 11/29/07). To protect construction workers from injuries in confined spaces, contractors would be required to classify spaces by the type of hazard they represent.

Harbin did not indicate when the rule would be made final, but said that work could move more quickly now that resources have been “freed up” from the cranes and derricks standard.

The proposed rule addresses four types of confined spaces, rather than the two laid out in OSHA's general industry standard, and includes procedures for employers to follow to address any hazards that exist in those spaces. The four types of confined spaces proposed are: continuous-system permit-required spaces (CS-PRCS); permit-required spaces; controlled-atmosphere spaces; and isolated hazard spaces. The existing general industry rule by contrast has only two classifications--confined space and permit-required confined space.

The OSHA Directorate of Construction is also participating in ongoing work by the Directorate of Standards and Guidance on an injury and illness prevention program rule, Harbin said. Under that rule, which has not been released in draft form, employers would bear the responsibility for identifying and addressing hazards in their own workplaces.

Personal Protective Equipment.

Further, the construction directorate is working on a guidance directive for personal protective equipment in the construction industry that is likely to borrow from OSHA's Nov. 4 directive for shipyards, said Harbin. Although the shipyard guidance took roughly two years to produce, the construction directive “should be coming forth soon,” Harbin said, without providing a specific date (40 OSHR 942, 11/11/10).

Among other things, the shipyard guidance clarifies when employers must pay for protective equipment.

The construction directorate is also working on finalizing a new chapter for OSHA's revised Field Operations Manual, which does not currently contain a construction chapter, Harbin said. Directorate staff are being challenged by the numerous and varied facets of construction work, he said.

Other activities include a compliance directive for highway work zones, which Harbin said “should be in the final stages of clearance” and aims to make the enforcement of highway zones consistent across the country, and ongoing training to OSHA field inspectors to improve the ways in which they target worksites for inspection.

More than 40 companies, including about 30 involved in construction, have been identified as severe violators under OSHA's Severe Violators Enforcement Program, said Harbin. The program, launched June 18, targets recalcitrant employers (40 OSHR 531, 6/24/10).

The Directorate of Construction also hopes to announce a new permanent director “soon,” Harbin said. The position has been held by acting heads since 2008. The current deputy and acting head is Ben Bare (40 OSHR 672, 8/12/10).

OSHA and NIOSH Team on Nail Gun Guidance.

The construction directorate is also teaming with NIOSH on “co-branded” guidance on the use of nail guns, following discussions in September between David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and NIOSH Director John Howard, according to Matt Gillen, deputy director of NIOSH's Office of Construction Safety and Health.

The two agencies have developed draft final guidance on nail gun safety procedures, intended for contractors, that will be circulated for external review, Gillen said. The final document will have to be reviewed by both OSHA and NIOSH and is expected to be finalized in March. Some have called for OSHA to update its standard relating to nail guns, particularly as it applies to the types of triggers used (40 OSHR 196, 3/11/10).

Christine Branche, principal associate director of NIOSH and acting director of NIOSH's Office of Construction Safety and Health, said the nail gun guidance was the “first of a few documents we have in mind for this topic.” Gillen said a future document might be aimed at workers.

By Stephen Lee