Many building materials dealers won't be required to comply with a potentially expensive new federal crane and derrick standard that takes effect Nov. 8, thanks to the advocacy and educational efforts of staff and members of LBM's national trade group.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that the articulating/knuckle-boom truck cranes that dealers use to take materials to construction sites will be exempt from its new standard. It appears that dealers' equipment will be subject only if the dealer uses them when it's doing installed sales work. Aside from that, OSHA's new rule applies mainly to tower cranes and other large equipment used in construction.

Requirements of the new standard include crane operator training and certification, site assessment and inspections, fall protection, and having an additional signal person on site–a requirement that would have forced dealers to add staff. The rule also won't apply to the truck cranes most often used for building materials delivery.

"This is a huge victory for the industry," says Michael O'Brien, president of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA). "To have fallen under that requirement–to have to add another person on a job site and the extra training–we're talking about tens of thousands of dollars, and for some companies, probably millions. We have a very good safety record, we're not part of the construction process, we're not assembling or disassembling cranes, and we're not using our cranes for construction of the building. That's the distinction people in the industry have to remember."

The rule was created in response to fatal tower crane collapses on construction sites, but went well beyond the cranes and derricks normally used in construction.

Unexpected Shock

When OSHA first came out with a proposed rule, NLBMDA was "quite taken aback" by the number and types of cranes being proposed for coverage, O'Brien says. It also seemed clear from the focus on construction activities in the regulatory impact analysis that OSHA didn't intend to include building material suppliers.

"We decided to do all we could to exempt ourselves because we're not contractors," O'Brien says.

NLBMDA presented OSHA with evidence from dealers, insurers, crane manufacturers, and the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) showing that the rules weren't appropriate for the type of crane typically used by building material suppliers. In addition, the industry already has appropriate safety standards through the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and an exemplary safety record. In the end, OSHA agreed, and wrote the exemption into the rule.

"We made a really strong case," says Chris Yenrick, chief operating officer of Smith Phillips Building Supply in Winston-Salem, N.C., and chair of NLBMDA's regulatory affairs committee. "If they were going to implement the rules, it would require costly training and additional personnel. That salary requirement could have made it economically out of reach to make deliveries with those trucks. Then, you're talking about people toting drywall upstairs, which is a lot more unsafe condition."

Tar Heel Victory

The lobbying efforts proved especially important in North Carolina, where the Department of Labor had decided not to wait for enactment of the federal rules and enacted the proposed rule verbatim in 2009.

The Southern Building Material Association, which serves dealers in the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee, joined forces with NLBMDA, the Articulating Crane Council of North America, and the NCCCO to present compelling information on the role of articulating/knuckle-boom trucks to deliver materials to construction sites. They also brought up the extensive training already provided to operators and the safety record of the industry.

In September, the North Carolina Department of Labor repealed its rule. Now it's adopting the federal rule that exempts boom trucks using fixed cranes.

"It really was a great thing for the lumber dealers to get that," Yenrick says.

NLBMDA is seeking further clarification from OSHA on some parts of the rule. In particular, it's looking at the section involving articulating/knuckle-boom truck cranes that are used to assist in construction, such as those used to set trusses.

–Pat Curry is a writer based in Augusta, Ga.