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Crane safety stays in the spotlight.

Byline: Chuck Slothower

Oregon crane operators will be required to complete a national certification program after the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted new rules.

The requirement comes amid greater scrutiny of crane safety since four people were killed in the April 27 collapse of a tower crane in Seattle.

Oregon's move to update the crane operator certification rules has been in the works since the federal government issued new rules in November 2018. The rules adoption was not spurred by the Seattle crane collapse, OSHA spokesman Aaron Corvin stated in an email.

OSHA delayed enforcement of the rules until Jan. 1, 2020. That's intended to give crane operators time to complete the required training, Corvin stated.

Crane operators had warned during the public comment period that training all crane operators quickly would be difficult.

"This difficulty largely stems from a shortage of training programs that would meet the nationally accredited standard required by the rule," Corvin stated. "The training programs exist, but they lack the capacity needed to quickly train the amount of operators that are affected by this rule."

Safety procedures have been placed under a magnifying lens in the aftermath of last month's crane collapse at a Google building under construction in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. The crane was awaiting disassembly when it toppled in a modest gust, The Seattle Times reported. Two construction workers and two people on the ground died in the collapse. One of the crane workers had local ties: Travis Corbet, age 33, of Iron Workers Local 29 in Portland.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is inspecting five companies that were working at the job site. The companies are GLY Construction Inc., Northwest Tower Crane Service Inc., Omega Morgan, Morrow Equipment Co. and Seaburg Construction Corp.

"That process can take up to six months from the time the inspection was opened," said Frank Ameduri, spokesman for the department. "It could end sooner than that, but it can't go longer than the six months."

The department can levy fines if any violations are found. The citations would explain what went wrong on the Google job site, Ameduri said.

Ameduri said he could not comment on the investigation's direction.

"While the inspection is ongoing, unfortunately there's not a lot of detail we can share," he said.

The Seattle Times, citing independent experts, reported bolts were likely loosened on the crane prior to it toppling.

Washington requires third-party certification of crane operators, and conducts inspections throughout the state. Most inspections are "self-referrals," or inspectors checking crane sites on their own. The department receives few complaints, Ameduri said.

Oregon last updated its operator certification rules in 2002. The state plan is required to be at least as stringent as federal rules, so when the federal government updated its rules last year to require crane operators to complete a nationally accredited training program, OSHA followed suit.

OSHA does not require advance inspections of tower cranes before work begins, Corvin stated. A "competent person" must visually inspect a crane each day, and further inspections are required monthly and annually. OSHA crane inspections can be spurred by a scheduled visit, accidents, referrals or complaints. If infractions are found, OSHA can issue citations and will work with operators to eliminate hazards. If hazards cannot be fixed immediately, OSHA can issue a "red tag" notice, suspending crane operations.

OSHA has not changed its practices in response to the Seattle incident, Corvin stated.

Existing rules address crane disassembly. One requires that boom sections, suspension systems and components "must be rigged or supported to maintain stability upon the removal of the pins."

Portland has been one of the busiest construction markets in the nation, with 30 tower cranes in the air as of January, according to Rider Levett Bucknall. The cranes are in use by a number of general contractors.

One major general contractor, Mortenson Construction, said it continues to emphasize safety.

"Mortenson safety and operations experts oversee all critical operations on its projects," Dan Mehls, a vice president and general manager of the company, stated in an email response to questions. "Mortenson's standard procedure is to prepare a detailed crane erection and dismantlement plan for all tower cranes and built-up cranes used on any of our projects. This plan includes input from our erection subcontractor, supplemental hoisting supplier, project management team and safety department."

Several crane operators did not respond to messages seeking comment on safety procedures and OSHA's new rules. Joseph Bowers, business manager of Iron Workers Local 29 in Portland, declined to comment.

Oregon has not suffered a catastrophic tower crane collapse in nearly four decades. The last such incident, in December 1980, killed two people during construction of the Glenn L. Jackson Bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Washington, according to OSHA.

A crane operator was killed in February 2015 when a metal beam pierced the crane's cab on a job site in Northeast Portland.

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Publication:Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:May 23, 2019
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