The state Labor Department plans to develop a set of minimum standards for licensing cranes and crane operators following a crane collapse in which a 79-year-old man was crushed to death in southwest Oklahoma City, Commissioner of Labor Lloyd Fields said Monday.


The state Labor Department plans to develop a set of minimum standards for licensing cranes and crane operators following a crane collapse in which a 79-year-old man was crushed to death in southwest Oklahoma City, Commissioner of Labor Lloyd Fields said Monday.
But the Oklahoma Legislature must adopt the guidelines and give the agency the power to enforce them before labor inspectors have the authority to conduct safety inspections of cranes and their operators, Fields said.
“We’ll have to have legislation for us to do anything effectively,” Fields said. “It may save some lives. That’s what we’re after.”
Winfred Stafford of Oklahoma City was killed Thursday when a crane that was lifting a steeple on to a new church building toppled and crushed a car where Stafford, a longtime church member, was seated, authorities said. His wife Charlyne, 78, was also in the car but was not injured.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Labor Department and the crane’s owner, Barnhart Crane and Rigging Co., are investigating the cause of the incident.
Oklahoma is among 35 states that do not require crane operators to be licensed. Fields said cranes in the state fall under OSHA regulations and operate without state oversight.
State Labor Department inspectors may inspect cranes when requested by contractors and crane operators but have no authority to independently require cranes and their operators to be inspected, he said.
Fields said Labor Department staffers are examining crane regulations in states that regulate cranes and will use them to create a set of proposed regulations for Oklahoma.
He said the agency will seek input from crane operators and owners before it takes the proposed guidelines to the Legislature for action. The proposals could include minimum operating standards for cranes, regular inspections and operator licenses.
Legislation imposing new guidelines for cranes and their operators will likely get a hearing in the Oklahoma House, said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, chairman of the House Industry and Labor Subcommittee.
“I would certainly entertain that in my committee,” Wesselhoft said. “We’ve seen this across the country. It’s not just in Oklahoma.”
A crane collapse in Houston earlier this month killed four contract workers and injured seven others. Other crane-related deaths have also occurred in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.
Jim Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, said operating engineers affiliated with the union go through apprenticeship and formal training programs before they are certified to operate cranes.
Curry said he supports Fields’ effort to require mandatory inspections and licensing of crane operators.
“You have to be licensed to cut hair in the state of Oklahoma. And you don’t need a license to operate a crane that people can be killed by?” Curry said.
But Cecil Barrett, a private crane inspector for 45 years, said he does not believe the proposal will improve safety standards for cranes and their operators.
“It’s not going to help. I think there’s nothing good about it,” Barrett said. “You can’t put him in a classroom environment and expect him to be certified.”
Barrett said he offers a two-day class on how to operate cranes that issues a certificate of training to operators, an OSHA requirement. But he said experience is the best training tool for operators.
“It’s a dangerous business,” he said. “People get relaxed.”
Barrett said he has performed inspections on the crane involved in Thursday’s deadly accident.
“It was in good shape. There was nothing wrong with it,” Barrett said. But he said he does not know what OSHA’s investigation is focusing on.