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Digger derricks and OSHA compliance: Some exemptions apply

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has delayed its deadline for employers to ensure that crane operators are certified by one year. When new licensing requirements for crane operators go into effect November 10, 2018, electric utilities should be aware of the requirements relating to the operation of digger derricks.

OSHA largely exempted digger derricks, or radial boom derricks, from the new third party licensing requirements. This exemption was put in place to keep electric generation and transmission utilities from having to cover more than $21 million annually in regulatory compliance costs, but the exemption extends from an earlier rule from 2013 that places limitations on the actual functions of the digger derrick.

Digger derrick operators are exempt from the licensing requirement as long as they are “used for augering holes for poles carrying electric or telecommunication lines, placing and removing the poles, and for handling associated materials for installation on, or removal from, the poles, or when used for any other work subject to subpart V of this part,” according to the exemption in OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1400(c)(4).

The rule, as it currently exists, exempts 95 percent of utility work. OSHA stated the remaining five percent is highly unlikely to be exempted, and there is no great savings in business, safety, or labor costs to be had by doing so.

Although most electric utility construction work using digger derricks is exempt, the work still must meet industry-specific OSHA safety regulations under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269, including all applicable safety standards for motor vehicles and mechanized equipment identified in Subpart O and electric power transmission and distribution safety guidelines described in Subpart V.

In the final rule, OSHA warned that if it found employers using a digger derrick for jobs not under the exemption, it would fine the employer and possibly rescind or restrict the exemption altogether. If OSHA restricts the exemption, employers would see increased costs to license operators.

A helpful analogy may be to think of OSHA compliance like playing soccer. Just as keeping the ball within the field keeps play going, following the limitations of the exemption allows for job completion. As soon as the ball and player cross over the sideline, the ball is out of play and the possession is reversed. If employers and employees keep digger derrick work within the boundaries of the exemption, they are less likely to face issues, fines, or repercussions keeping operational costs down, worker safety at the highest level, and helping prevent utilities from facing increased oversight in the future.