Final Rule Changes Digger Derrick Exemption

OSHA has broadened its exemption for digger derricks in its crane and derricks standard.

A "digger derrick" or "radial boom derrick" is a piece of equipment designed to install utility poles by using augers to drill holes and a hydraulic boom to set the poles. Now OSHA has published a direct final rule to expand the existing exemption for digger derricks used by electric utilities, with the rule set to take effect Feb. 7, 2013, unless OSHA receives significant adverse comment by Dec. 10.

The exemption is contained in OSHA's cranes and derricks construction standard, which was developed through negotiated rulemaking. After the publication of that standard, OSHA received many comments criticizing the scope of the exemption because it applied to digger derricks designed for the electric utility industry, and then only when used to dig holes for utility work. The comments noted placing poles in the holes and attaching transformers and other items to the poles also is typical work done with these machines, with commenters complaining the exemption would be largely meaningless unless it included these functions. Representatives of the telecommunications industry also noted they use digger derricks routinely for similar purposes and sought an expansion.

OSHA said the Edison Electrical Institute provided new information showing the exemption covers about 95 percent of work conducted by digger derricks in the electric utility industry, and most of the work under the remaining 5 percent is closely related to the exempted work. (For example, when electric utilities use digger derricks to perform construction work involving pole installations, the same crew typically installs pad-mount transformers on the ground as part of the same power system; the pole work is exempt under 29 CFR 1926.1400(c)(4), but placing the transformer on the ground is not, according to OSHA.)

The direct final rule will expand the exemption as requested. OSHA says when compared with the currently exempted pole work, it "believes most (if not all) of the remaining five percent of work is at least as safe."

Comments about the direct final rule may be submitted via www.regulations.gov by searching for Docket No. OSHA-2012-0025.

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