A new report on the making of OSHA’s cranes and derricks regulation shows that the federal rulemaking process takes many years and requires significant input from stakeholders, says Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group that conducted the study.

Researchers took a detailed look at the making of a relatively uncontroversial rule – one to boost safety for cranes and derricks workers.

“If ever there was a rule that seemingly should have breezed to adoption, this was it,” said Taylor Lincoln, director of research for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and one of the report’s authors. “Problems with the existing standard were widely acknowledged, the urgency of preventing avoidable deaths and injuries was clear, and the regulated industries were among the loudest advocates for a new standard.”

Despite those factors, the process of approving the safeguard – an update to an existing rule – spanned a dozen years and three presidential administrations. Public Citizen pointed out that 750 construction workers died from crane-related incidents during that time. “It didn’t help that during President George W. Bush’s tenure, rulemaking virtually ground to a halt because of that administration’s ideological opposition to public safeguards,” according to a statement by the group. “By OSHA’s most conservative estimate, the new rule would have saved about 220 of those lives had it taken effect in 2000 instead of 2010; the delay meanwhile cost more than $600 million.”

“The regulatory process repeatedly afforded the concerns of businesses a higher priority than the lives of workers that would be saved by simply completing the rule,” Lincoln said.

Among the crane-related tragedies cited by Public Citizen:
  • Six construction workers and a bystander died and 24 suffered injuries when a crane collapsed in New York City on March 15, 2008.
  • Ten days later, a 20-foot crane section in Miami fell 30 stories, killing two construction workers and injuring five.
  • On May 30, another crane fell in New York City, killing two construction workers and injuring a worker and a bystander.
David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, charged that some lawmakers are trying to slow the process down further.

“Several bills have been introduced that would burden agencies with even more wasteful, time-consuming analysis and reporting before they can write new rules, no matter how sensible and uncontroversial the proposals might be,” Arkush said. “These bills will impose millions of dollars in new costs and allow thousands of preventable deaths and injuries.”

Added Lincoln, “Members of Congress who sincerely want to streamline government and eliminate duplication should seek to improve the speed and efficiency with which agencies can create worthy rules with the same fervor that they seek to combat purportedly unfair standards.”