Searching for the “Qualified Rigger”

Searching for the “Qualified Rigger”

December 22, 2010

As most are aware by now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, as we all know) has a new Final Rule for Cranes & Derricks in Construction—Subpart CC of 29 CFR Part 1926— that was published August 9, 2010. With the exception of operator certification, which is required by November 2014, the regulation became effective November 8, 2010. That 90-day window has given conscientious crane users little time to comply with certain of the rule’s demands.

Among the rule’s serious new provisions, of course, are the obligation of the “controlling entity” (usually the general contractor) to inform the crane operator of all known underfoot conditions (1926.1402); more stringent crane assembly/disassembly procedures, including the use of an assembly/disassembly director, who must meet the criteria for both a “competent” and “qualified” person (1926.1403-1406); and strict provisions for power-line safety (1926.1407-1411).

But as crane users scramble to bring their people and their fleets into compliance, the new rule’s requirement for “qualified riggers” is one provision (among several others) that is causing concern. The new rule requires a “qualified rigger” to be used during the assembly and disassembly of cranes, and when workers are “hooking, unhooking or guiding the load” in the “fall zone.” One OSHA spokesman described the fall zone as “anywhere the load can reach if it comes loose.” Sounds as if the employer would be wise to have every load hooked by a “qualified rigger.”

OSHA says that the “qualified rigger” is a “qualified person who by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, successfully demonstrates the ability to solve/resolve problems relating to the subject matter, work or project.”

That definition aside, crane users generally are struggling to understand exactly what’s required of them in terms of using qualified riggers. If a rigging-related accident occurs, they’re asking, what sort of documentation will satisfy OSHA that the rigger was qualified? The problem is compounded by the number of people on the construction site who might possibly hook loads, such as the carpenter, the laborer, the ironworker, the heating contractor—just about any of the trades.

Given the situation, some crane users are opting to have key people in their firms attend classes offered by recognized training companies, then having these employees certified through an accredited testing organization. These people, in turn, then train others in the company who must not only fulfill knowledge requirements, but also must demonstrate their capability in the field.

The task of qualifying riggers for some large crane-using contracting firms has become overwhelming, and some are turning to trade unions for help. From reports we’ve heard, the unions have been receptive to training their members and furnishing the employer some sort of documentation of the rigger’s competence.

We think both of these approaches go a long way toward showing a good-faith effort to meet the OSHA standard. But take note, the final responsibility of assessing a rigger’s skill is still placed squarely at the employer’s feet.

For instance, a recent OSHA Fact Sheet makes the observation that an experienced rigger is not “automatically” qualified “to rig unstable, unusually heavy or eccentric loads that may require a tandem lift, multiple lifts, or use custom rigging equipment. In essence, employers must make sure the person can do the rigging work needed for the exact types of loads and lifts for a particular job with the equipment and rigging that will be used for that job.”

Just one final observation: We agree with a long-time crane operator who said the new rigging standard removes the legality of responsibility for assuring properly rigged loads from the operator, where it’s been placed for the last 40 years, and places the onus on the person doing the rigging.

But let all trust that this conscientious operator will still pay attention to the rigging, and will still have the backbone to exercise his right as the final authority about whether the lift is a go or no-go. Ultimately, it’s not about avoiding legal responsibility; it’s about protecting life and limb, and about our fundamental responsibility for a fellow worker’s welfare.