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Two years ago, after a series of deaths involving cranes, Minnesota passed a law requiring that anyone operating a construction crane pass a certification test after undergoing classroom and practical training. Minnesota is one of about 13 states that require a license or certification to operate cranes, according to Glen Johnson, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 chapter in Minneapolis.

Federally, there is no such requirement despite safety records showing that crane-related accidents kill about 90 workers in the United States each year. Johnson, who operated a crane for more than 15 years, says crane deaths are “unacceptable.” One of the problems: “everyone and his brother” is jumping in cranes on job sites, regardless of their qualifications to use the equipment. It’s ironic, he noted, that most states require a license to drive a car, but don’t have a similar requirement to operate a five-ton crane, which has the potential to tip over, strike an overhead power line or cause severe damage to bodies and property.

Few jobs are as dangerous as operating a crane, Johnson, who helped write the Minnesota certification law, told an OSHA panel in Washington, D.C., considering similar federal standards. But with proper national standards in place, he said, operators across the country can “greatly reduce the risk of injury or death.”

We have been involved in a number of these cases over the years. Usually they involved complicated interchanges with workers compensation coverage and also with the need for extensive investigation. The injuries are usually fatal or very severe. Hopefully, other governmental units will look to the helpful protections that Minnesota has.

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