Who's Really In Charge Here?

For over thirty years, I was the owner of Dearborn Crane & Engineering, a manufacturer of overhead cranes. I have to admit to having a thin skin when it comes to news reports that take pot shots at “big, bad business”. You might be asking yourself, what this has to do with an engineering blog about cranes, but bear with me. I’ll be getting to the point real quick.


Enter the Fire Marshall

Some time around the mid 90’s, the local Fire Marshall paid a surprise visit to do an inspection of my manufacturing facility. We had just completed our ISO 9000 Certification and practiced the 5P management program. In other words, we had a clean and organized manufacturing floor. I confidently walked the Fire Marshall to my shop, fully expecting a clean bill of health. 

Right off the bat, he wanted to go and see our above ground gasoline storage tank. I later found out that he spied the tank while driving by and the tank was what prompted the visit.

We had the tank for the purpose of fueling our lift trucks and mobile cranes. A decade earlier we had thought about putting in an under ground tank, but in light of all the horror stories about leaking tanks I was glad we had never made the switch.

So when he left, we had a 100% clear bill of health, with the exception of orders to eliminate the above ground fuel tank. As soon as the Fire Marshall left, I looked up IDEM, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. After a few dead end calls, I finally got the right guy. The IDEM guy asked me a few questions and in less than five minutes, I was told our gasoline usage was too low to get a permit for an under ground tank. 


Now it Gets Interesting

I told the IDEM guy about my problem with the local Fire Marshall and relayed the fact that he would not allow me to have a gasoline storage tank above ground. The IDEM man’s response was “… I don’t know what to tell you about the Fire Marshall, but I’m telling you that you can’t put your gas tank under ground.” I was beginning to get exasperated. 


Just Tell Me What To Do!?!?!!!

I told him that I’m not fighting this, I just want to do the right thing. I politely said that I had the Mishawaka Fire Marshall’s card right in front of me and I could give him the Fire Marshall’s contact info. I asked if he would talk to the Mishawaka Fire Marshall and please compare notes on my situation. Once they decided on a course of action, one of them could give me instructions on what I have to do to comply with the law. 

I naively expected a response something like, sure, give me his number and I’ll get back with you in a couple days. Instead I got “we don’t do that, all I can tell you is that you can’t put your tank underground.”

I thought to myself; this was a downstate Indianapolis bureaucrat and I should have expected this, my local Fire Marshall will be a far more helpful person so I gave him a call. Little did I know that I was about to get the same answer from him! Well, almost the same answer. He said, “…I don’t care where you put it, but it can’t be located above ground!”


Who’s in Charge Here…
No, Really, Who’s In Charge?

I recently wrote an article here on OSHA’s 1910.6 “Incorporation By Reference”. OSHA’s 1910.6 references over 200 other codes that through the legal concept of  “Incorporation By Reference” have the full weight of the OSHA spec. In other words, OSHA is not the 2344 pages in the 1910.00 book but rather tens of thousands of pages including all those specs being “Incorporated By Reference.”


ISO (International Standards Organization) European Crane Specs

What brought this topic up was last week I had a client in upper New York state that was hung up on the ISO SWP (Safe Working Period) calculations. I’ve had about twenty years experience with the ISO standards and the SWP calcs in particular. I ran the number for them and then explained the results on a conference call with a room full of their engineers and managers. They were shocked to hear the cranes they had me run the numbers on, all had an SWP calculated remaining life of almost -1000 days. That is, the hoists should have been replaced or undergone a “GO” (General Overhaul) about a thousand days ago.

Near the end of the call, I confidently said that although I thought the SWP system was the best method of quantifying hoist life, it’s a European standard. Because they were a New York company they really didn’t have to worry about SWP.


Pulling the Rug Out From Under Me

The first response was a collective sigh of relief from the group. That was until one of them said “… doesn’t OSHA say that we have to also comply with the manufacturers maintenance recommendations?”  I quickly retorted, that’s not just OSHA, there’s a similar statement in CMAA 70, CMAA 74 crane specs and the HMI HST 4 hoist specifications. 


OSHA 1919.179(l)(2)(i)

A preventive maintenance program based on the crane manufacturer’s recommendations SHALL be established.


As soon as the words left my lips, my brain telegraphed a sickening feeling directly to my gut. I had just opened one huge can of worms! For the first time it dawned on me that if you have a crane with a European hoist such as a Kone or Demag, and they have ISO requirements such as the SWP calculation for useful life in their Owners Manual (and they all do), then you are subject to the ISO requirements as well as OSHA and all the other documents Incorporated By Reference!!!

Putting on My Expert Witness Hat

Now lets just imagine that you had a dropped load, crane accident (like my NY client). The crane has had normal maintenance and it still has it’s original motor, gearbox, brakes, etc. It was a good piece of equipment and ran like a top, prior to the accident. 

Now the widow’s lawyer is suing your company and the plaintiff’s expert witness reads the Kone owner’s manual and runs the SWP calcs. He runs the numbers and it says the hoist had a -837 day estimated remaining life (yes, that’s a negative number).

At this point the question changes from guilt or innocents, to how much will we have to pay, will our insurance cover the claim and how much will my rates be going up? The question might even be, when does negligence in a workplace safety accident result in not civil, but criminal charges?


In other words, YES, if you own a European hoist (or Japanese, Korean, etc), you are subject to those specs too, and you better start doing your homework…NOW.



By the way, I never got an answer about above ground gasoline tanks vs. under ground tanks. I finally gave up and changed all my equipment over to LP gas. 

Some times the real challenge is not how to conform to the law, but knowing what law to conform to? In other words, “Who’s really in charge here?”

Larry Dunville