Proposed crane law has construction site shutdown provision
By Lou Ortiz
Sweeping new rules could soon govern the use of cranes in Miami-Dade County, including inspections that could potentially shut down construction sites that don't comply with the law.
The proposed law, which some in the industry oppose, covers mast climbing work platforms, tower cranes, mobile cranes and personnel and material hoists.
The county's Crane and Heavy Equipment Advisory Committee led by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson fashioned the proposed ordinance.
The committee included more than a dozen representatives of equipment manufactures, crane operators and other construction industry professionals.
"It is something that is much needed in the entire state," Ms. Edmonson said. "It was written and put together by people in the industry."
But she added: "You always have some from the industry who don't want cranes regulated."
The proposed law would allow inspectors from the Office of Building Code Compliance to suspend or revoke building permits at any construction site that failed to comply.
The county's proposal comes after 14 crane-related construction fatalities from January to May 2006, matching the number of such accidents in 2005.
The proposed law says more than 100 major projects under construction in the county use "heavy hoisting equipment such as tower cranes."
"This ordinance is going to protect the life and limb of workers [at construction sites] and the general public," said Greg Teslia, president of Crane Safety Inspections Inc., who served on the county committee.
"We put a year and a half into this. It was a lot of work," he said. "Rules and regulations already exist, but they're not being followed."
Mr. Teslia added that Miami-Dade's proposed law would act as a sort of "guarantee to the contractor."
But Len Mills, executive vice president and CEO of the South Florida Associated General Contractors, disagrees.
"Giving discretion to building inspectors has potential danger," said Mr. Mills, whose group includes general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and others in the construction trade.
"There is a provision that inspectors can shut down an entire site at their perception of a safety violation," he said. "Dozens of workers on a project who don't rely on the crane would be put out of work by an inspector whose credentials may be questionable.
"And that," he said, "would be terribly unfair."
Mr. Mills added that any law governing cranes should be statewide.
"We need a statewide law in lieu of a local ordinance," he said. Otherwise, "We'll have a mishmash of standards."
Exempted from Miami-Dade's proposed ordinance would be mobile cranes whose booms are less than 25 feet, or maximum rated load capacities of less than 15,000 pounds; operators of electric line trucks; marine terminal operations; and aerial work platforms or boom-supported platforms.
Building plans submitted to the county would have to "contain sufficient information for the Building Official to determine whether the hoisting equipment to be used in the construction complies with" the proposed ordinance states.
Construction sites would be subject to county inspections after hoisting equipment was installed, then every six months, and in the event of a hurricane, or an accident.
Construction sites would also be responsible for complying with hurricane procedures, including retracting booms, removing rigging from the hoist block and disconnecting power at the base of the tower, the proposed ordinance says.
"The presence of a substantial number of cranes and other heavy hoisting equipment during hurricane season poses serious concerns of public safety," the proposal says.
Tower and mobile crane operators would have to be certified by an accredited agency, and must have passed a physical and drug test, according to the proposed ordinance. They would also have to be recertified every five years.
Trainees would have to be "under the direct supervision of an operator possessing a valid certificate of competency."
Two cranes near each other would have to be radio communication. In addition, signal persons who assist cranes would face tests to assure their understanding of crane operations and standard hand and voice signals according to industry standards.
County inspectors would have to be qualified in the equipment they inspect, the proposed ordinance says. Qualifications would include five years experience in the industry and completing a factory-sponsored or approved technical course on the equipment they inspect, among other things.
The proposal could be changed before coming before the county commission in March. If approved, it would take effect 10 days later unless vetoed by County Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
The qualifications and certification standards would take effect Jan. 1, 2009, according to the proposal.
The ordinance would affect all incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county.
Last year, the state of Washington enacted one of the nation's toughest crane-safety laws, requiring state approval to erect the structures, according to a report in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
The state law also requires certification for the cranes and the operators.
Washington state lawmakers passed the legislation after one of the worst construction disasters in state history in 2006, when a 210-foot crane collapsed in downtown Bellevue and killed a Microsoft Corp. lawyer in his apartment and heavily damaged three buildings, the article said.