Letter to Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor, Re: Issue New Safety Regulations for Cranes

Schumer, Clinton Call on Bush Administration to Issue New Safety Regulations for Cranes

Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton have called on the Bush Administration to issue new safety regulations on cranes and derricks, to detail how safety enforcement will be brought into compliance with new regulations, and to explain why the administration has failed to implement new regulations. In a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Schumer and Clinton joined other Senators in pressing for uniform oversight and enforcement of up-to-date Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for cranes and derricks. The Senators further underscored that existing OSHA regulations for cranes and derricks were implemented in 1971, and that OSHA submitted new standards to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) four years ago that have not been put into place.

Two crane accidents in New York City were responsible for the deaths of nine individuals this year.

"These terrible and tragic accidents must be a wake-up call to close the gaping holes in the federal regulations governing crane safety. OSHA cannot continue to be asleep at the switch as cranes collapse here in New York and across the country," said Senator Schumer.

"The tragic number of recent crane accidents in New York and elsewhere that have led to injury or death is sobering, and it is critical that we act immediately to protect the safety of workers and residents and prevent future tragedies. The regulations governing crane and derrick safety are antiquated and poorly enforced. I urge the Administration to immediately issue the safety regulations it has withheld for four years and take steps to ensure that these regulations are enforced," said Senator Clinton.

Text of the Senators' letter follows.

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Secretary of Labor
United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Chao:

Our nation's construction workers are in danger. They are laboring on increasingly complex projects, and workers and contractors alike are under pressure to bring those projects in on time and within budget. The number of fatalities in recent months is growing evidence that workers' safety is being sacrificed for speed as well as cost. In 2006, 1,226 construction workers were killed on the job - the most of any industry sector. These alarming numbers raise significant concerns with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) work in two areas: worker falls and unsafe construction cranes.

Falls are the leading cause of worker deaths in the construction industry, accounting for about 36 percent of all fatalities. Temporary planked or decked floors and netting are critical safety features at construction sites - and the last chance for a worker whose safety harness fails or becomes detached. It may be the only chance to stop an accident from becoming fatal. Workers, therefore, are best protected when both forms of fall protection are in place - safety harness and decking or netting. We find it difficult to understand, therefore, why OSHA encourages employers to ignore OSHA's own longstanding regulation that requires employers to place planking, decking, or netting no more than 30 feet below where workers work - regardless of whether safety harnesses are in use. OSHA's current policy to allow employers who provide safety harnesses to forego decking or netting seems designed to minimize costs - not maximize safety. There is no acceptable rationale for a policy that encourages contractors to cut costs at the expense of workers' safety and lives. The use of both safety harnesses, decking, or netting is critical and federal inspectors should enforce requiring both of them.

Industry experts claim a crane is one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment on a construction site. According to a July 16, 2008 New York Times article, 72 workers died in crane-related accidents across the country in 2006 (the most recent statistic available). As the skills and knowledge necessary to operate construction cranes has increased, standards to operate them safely have not kept pace. Critics and states have varying rules governing construction cranes, and some choose to rely on outdated federal guidelines from 1971, even though technology has greatly changed crane operations and substantially increased crane size.

The Department of Labor has failed to provide the needed safety standards for cranes and derricks during this Administration. In 2003, OSHA established a negotiated rulemaking committee, bringing together representatives of industry and labor, to develop a consensus documents to serve as the foundation of a proposed OSHA standard on crane and derricks. Four years ago, the committee completed its work, and only now has OSHA submitted a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. This delayed action is unfathomable - particularly since the committee included a revised standard with specific rules on critical aspects of the issue, such as crane assembly. OSHA's delay has resulted in more needless deaths and injuries in crane accidents.

In addition, federal inspections are failing to provide adequate safety oversight. Annual inspections are rare. In states without any state regulations, many crane owners are able to side step inspections all together.

Our nation's construction workers and their families should be confident that when they go to work, they will return home safely. OSHA should ensure that the cranes and derricks standard that has languished for four years before being sent to the OMB for final review is issued immediately, and that it and all fall protections are fully and vigorously enforced. We respectfully request within 30 days of the date of this letter that you: (1) notify the construction industry that all fall protection requirements will be fully enforced by federal inspectors; (2) explain how OSHA will help bring state OSHA policy and practice into compliance with the original 2002 rule on falls; (3) inform us of the date when OSHA submitted the proposed cranes and derricks rule to OMB and the date that the cranes and derricks standard will be issued; (4) provide us with a detailed explanation of OSHA's four-year delay in taking action to issue the cranes and derricks standard; (5) forward a copy of the Cranes and Derricks Advisory Committee Consensus report as soon as possible, accompanied by a list of the stakeholders engaged in developing the consensus; and (6) describe OSHA's plan to increase the number and thoroughness of construction crane site inspections by federal and state personnel and collect more complete and timely information on crane safety.

American construction workers have waited too long of OSHA to do its job. It is time for prompt, decisive action. We urge you to act now.

With respect and appreciation,

Sincerely,

Patty Murray, U.S. Senator
Harry Reid, U.S. Senator
Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Senator
Christopher Dodd, U.S. Senator
Jack Reed, U.S. Senator
Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Senator
Barack Obama, U.S. Senator
Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator
Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator