A finding by the state Department of Labor places seven years worth of efforts to certify crane operators in limbo. It also raises new concerns about administrative problems within the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health division (HIOSH), which oversees workplace safety.
Meanwhile, only 462 of the state's estimated 1,000 crane operators have been tested and certified, and the new legal snarl suggests there will be more obstacles to overseeing the industry, according to the report.
This week, the Hoisting Machine Operators Advisory Board, the state crane-operator certification agency, was told that its existence is illegal and the certification standards it formulated can't be enforced.
"The way the board is set up is wrong," said James Hardway, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, who met with the board to explain the inconsistencies in legislation that the department discovered earlier this month.
"The advisory board is not answerable to the labor director and is an independent agency but is set up as an advisory board. The board can make only recommendations and not rules. So any rule they develop is illegal under the law."
The board was created by the state Legislature as part of a 1998 law that required all crane operators to pass a national exam, have at least 1,000 hours of experience and receive state certification based on these two qualifications.
The law went into effect Oct. 1, 2003, but since then, no one has been cited for either operating a crane without a certificate or employing a noncertified operator, generating complaints of unfairness from those who have followed the letter of the law.
The determination by the labor department was a blow to the board that had worked since 1998 to write certification rules.
Hardway said the labor department is in talks with federal OSHA officials to get clarification on what the state can do to continue operating the certification program.
Some construction companies say they are troubled that after the push to get operators certified, HIOSH inspectors aren't at job sites checking.
"There's a lot of minor accidents happening at sites that are not publicized," said Jim Weander, director of operations at Hawaii Crane & Rigging Ltd., which rents cranes and operators to contractors. "The industry as a whole tries to suppress accidents as much as possible and no one knows about a lot of minor accidents. We are in for a catastrophic accident in the future because of lack of experience in the industry."