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Cranes and Derricks

The Prolonged Creation of a Key Public Safety Rule

April 2011 Federal agencies have long been the object of scorn and criticism by political actors who claim that the employees of public health agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration act as unelected, unaccountable autocrats who hand down burdensome safety rules with little concern about their effects on businesses. But the process of writing these rules is usually long, complicated and involves significant input from affected industries and other stakeholders. In fact, the federal agencies that are charged with protecting public health and safety may be some of the most tightly “regulated” entities in the United States.

This report recounts the creation of an important rule that was badly needed to protect workers — and, sometimes, passersby — from the dangers posed by cranes at construction sites. If ever there were a rule that seemingly should have breezed to adoption, this was it. Problems with the existing standard were widely acknowledged, the urgency of preventing avoidable deaths and injuries was clear, and the regulated industries were advocating for a new standard. But a dozen years would pass, spanning three presidential administrations, before the revised standard was in place.

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