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January 30, 2013
Two decisions clarify rules applicable to cranes

At general engineering firm C.A. Rasmussen in Simi Valley, a maintenance employee was sent to replace the starter mechanism on a crane. While performing this task, he attempted to "jump-start" the crane's engine by reaching into the crane's engine compartment. When the crane started up, the unguarded fan blades inside the engine began turning, and part of the worker's middle finger was amputated.

In another incident, Michels Corporation, a construction contractor, was using a crane to lift and place 15-foot-long sections of concrete pipe into a sewer at a Rio Linda jobsite. A worker standing on top of a ladder was waiting to guide the rigging into position for the lift. While waiting, he noticed that the spreader bar on the rigging was rotating. When he reached up to stop its movement, he was dragged off the ladder and fell 5 feet to the ground, suffering a fractured hip.

Citations for both employers

Because of the finger amputation, C.A. Rasmussen was cited for a serious violation of General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) Section 4002(a), which requires employers to guard moving parts of machinery against accidental contact. Michels Corporation was cited for violating GISO Section 4993(b) for not providing tag lines to control a rotating load.

The Rasmussen citation was initially dismissed by an administrative law judge (ALJ); the citation against Michels Corporation was initially upheld. Cal/OSHA appealed the Rasmussen decision to the Appeals Board, and Michels Corporation appealed the decision in its case.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board agreed to hear both cases and issued "decisions after reconsideration" (DARs) in both. Because a DAR is "precedential"—meaning the board's findings will be used to resolve future cases involving similar violations—these decisions have the potential to affect other crane operators.

Practice tip

GISO Section 4002, with its requirements to guard moving parts of machinery, does not apply exclusively to cranes; it applies to all potentially hazardous moving machine parts.

C. A. Rasmussen: Were the fan blades 'guarded by location'?

In the Rasmussen case, the fan blades that caused the amputation injury were by no means readily accessible. To reach the engine compartment to jump-start the crane, the maintenance worker climbed on the crane's wheel; to reach the starter, he had to use pliers.

Because of this, the ALJ who initially heard the case determined that Cal/OSHA would have to show that the fan blade was not "guarded by location" to make its case. The Appeals Board rejected this finding.

It cited GISO Section 3941, which states that moving parts may be considered "guarded by location" if they are so located by their remoteness from floor, platform, walkway, or other working level—or by their location with reference to frame, foundation, or structure—as to remove the likelihood of accidental contact.

The location of the fan blades an inaccessible distance from the ground "appears to have confused the ALJ," the board found, "but the height of the work area alone does not determine whether a rotating machine part is guarded by location."

Although the Rasmussen worker could not reach the moving fan blades without climbing the machine and reaching into it, that very act of climbing and reaching was required to perform his job task. "The moving parts were not remote from the working level," the board concluded, and consequently the blade was not guarded by location. The violation was upheld as serious.

Michels Corporation: Is rigging equipment considered a 'load'?

In the initial decision, the ALJ who heard the Michels case reasoned that the definition of "Load (Working)" in GISO Section 4885 includes the load attaching equipment and upheld the violation. However, according to the board, the term "load" is not defined in the cited standard, GISO Section 4993. The board, therefore, set out to determine whether the rigging by itself is considered a "load," even when it is not attached to the object that is to be moved.

It noted that other regulations under the crane operating rules (found in GISO Sections 4990-5009) did not appear to include the rigging as part of a load. Section 4995 forbids workers from riding on "loads, hooks, or slings of any derrick, hoist, or crane," treating the rigging as separate from the load. Similarly, Section 4885 discusses load attaching equipment, indicating that rigging is not part of the actual load being lifted. And Section 4999 discusses measures for attaching a load in a way that indicates that the rigging is considered a separate item from the load itself.

The ALJ erred, the board found, because the definition of "working load" in Section 4885 is irrelevant to the use of "load" in Section 4993. The definition of "working load" applies to a mass or weight measurement used to determine whether the intended lift is within the crane's safe operating limits.

In other words, it applies to the total weight being lifted, not to a particular object. The word "load" used in Section 4993, however, applies to the object being lifted, and the standard discusses separately the apparatus used to attach it (the rigging).

The board dismissed the citation, concluding that the employer was not required to attach a tag line to the rigging to control its rotation.

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