New state rules require cranes and operators to be certified

Out of an estimated 70,000 cranes in the state, only about 800 have been certified.

By Isaac Bonnell

Beginning Jan. 1, 2010,  all construction cranes in Washington are required to get an annual safety inspection, though only about 800 of the estimated 70,000 cranes in the state have done so, according to the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

One reason that many construction companies have yet to certify their cranes is because construction spending is down and many cranes are simply not being used.

“There definitely is still a large number of cranes that require certification,” said L&I spokesperson Hector Castro. “It’s not to say that a crane that hasn’t been certified isn’t safe, but now we have rules in place to make sure that they are. Many companies are just waiting until they will actually be using cranes on a construction site.”

The new crane certification requirement is part of a larger L&I crane safety program that also requires crane operators to pass a written exam and a skill test. The operator certification rule went into effect in January 2008.

It was the collapse of a crane and the death of one person that prompted state lawmakers to adopt new crane safety laws. In November 2006, a 210-foot tower crane used in the construction of a Bellevue office building collapsed, killing Microsoft lawyer Matthew Ammon in a nearby condo. An L&I investigation determined that the crane’s steel base frame needed to be four times stronger to adequately support the crane. This structural weakness caused the accident.

Now L&I is requiring yearly safety inspections to be done by one of the 50 certified crane inspectors in the state. The process can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the size and complexity of the crane, Castro said.

The process went smoothly enough for Tom Pike, safety manager for IMCO General Construction, to put in his vote of confidence.

“We actually got checked the first Monday of the year,” Pike said. “But we’ve always had our cranes inspected on a yearly basis, so that’s nothing new to us.”

Three of the five cranes that IMCO uses have been certified, and the remaining two are scheduled to get certified this month. In order to comply with current law, the company also sent five crane operators to a week-long training program to prepare them for the operators test.

“It’s a pretty substantial training,” Pike said. “We have operators who have been with us for years and even those guys told me it’s tough. The tests are hard and they don’t give you any breaks.”

Overall, Pike said, he is happy with the program, but there are just a few small procedural hiccups that need to be worked out to make sure that the right paperwork gets to the right person.

“It’s new, and I’m sure it’s going to take awhile for it to get going smoothly,” he said.

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