Friday, April 25, 2008

State (Pennsylvania) Lacks Crane Safety Regulations

State Lacks Crane Safety Regulations
Philadelphia - In the wake of the recent Miami and New York City construction site crane accidents that caused multiple deaths, Pennsylvania still does not require any standard of safety regulations for either cranes or construction sites as a whole.

"Currently, there are no qualifications or tests mandated by the state or by any other municipality," said Anthony Lusi Jr., an assistant training director with the operating engineers Local 542 and a member of the building trades union. "It's an employer-driven ordeal."

Over the span of eight days, slipshod crane operations left nine dead and dozens more injured last month, warranting a closer look at how well safety regulations are followed when erecting a building.

Three states that share borders with Pennsylvania - New York, New Jersey and Maryland - use U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-recommended plans to ensure the highest safety standards are upheld on the work site.

Mr. Lusi, a 32-year veteran with the building trades and a member of the building trades safety committee, said Philadelphia has a "sizable" amount of cranes operating daily in the city.

He said most construction site accidents in the city are never reported.

"The numbers will be skewed," he said.

"It is the employer's responsibility to foresee potential hazards of unsafe positions, and that is the gray area where a lot of the balls are dropped," he said. "I think the cart is pulling the horse if we wait for these accidents to happen and don't taken responsibility and preventative measures."

Currently only construction site accidents resulting in three or more injuries and/or a death are required to go on record with OSHA. Under the OSH Act, an employer must "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." Beyond that, work site safety regulations here are a crapshoot.

Leni Fortson, spokeswoman for the local labor department, said the Philadelphia OSHA branch and the city are working together to share information.

As to the safety measures taken at work sites, Ms. Fortson said she could not specify, since construction projects are overseen only to the degree the employer pays for it.

"We're looking to see whether the standards that are promulgated under the OSHA health act have been followed. We are constantly keeping and eye on all work sites, since construction is considered one of the more hazardous work sites," Ms. Fortson said.

While Pennsylvania does not opt to abide by the safety guidelines recommended by OSHA, Mr. Lusi said most union workers feel they exhibit "due diligence" in addressing safety on the job.

According to Gayle Johns, spokeswoman for Licenses & Inspection (L&I), the accidents in New York and Miami were related to tower cranes, which are stationary and used to construct, alter or demolish high-rise buildings. She cited three in operation currently - at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at 15th and Chestnut streets, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in West Philadelphia and at the 900 block of N. Penn Street.

"Philadelphia has no local legislation regulating the construction and operation of tower cranes, other than the general requirements in the building code to protect the public and adjacent property from the construction project," Ms. Johns said.

"Our inspectors are nationally certified in the construction codes, but cranes and equipment used to conduct the construction is regulated by OSHA."

If unsafe operations that threaten public safety are in effect at work sites, Ms. Johns said city inspectors will issue stop-work orders until problems are resolved.

L&I could not confirm numbers relating to construction accidents.

Mr. Lusi said he recalled one construction site death in 2006 in Delaware County and three deaths in 2005 in Montgomery County. He said a bill aimed at extending safety measures is stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The legislation, if passed, would make crane operators in the commonwealth more aware of regulations and safety standards that apply to the construction industry.

"The state requires us to be able to operate a vehicle with minimal skill," he said.

Additionally, Mr. Lusi said changes to construction site equipment, including cranes, "changes drastically from year to year," and it is at the employer's discretion to train or educate operators on the latest technology - an option not always chosen because of the financial burden of outsourcing training and testing mechanisms.

The city Office of Risk Management did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Jenny DeHuff can be reached at jdehuff@thebulletin.us.
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