Safe Signs

“Jimmy” hasn’t worked in seven years. He fell from a bucket truck in 2008 while installing a sign, severely injuring his back. Depressed and permanently disabled, he now sits in his house in a suburb of Chicago, popping pain pills and drinking too much too often. The husband of a friend’s friend, Jimmy’s story is true—and it’s not uncommon.

“Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly four million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover,” US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said during a speech last April. That’s nearly 11,000 workers every day! “These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy,” Solis noted. A significant number of these fatalities are associated with the use of cranes and derricks, primarily in construction, with electrocution being a major culprit.

While Jimmy’s injury wasn’t the result of horseplay, many workplace accidents are caused by employees goofing around. Earlier in my career, before I became a B2B magazine/website editor and writer, I sold new and used lift trucks for a brief period. One of the material-handling services this now defunct Yale dealership offered was driver certification and, as part of my training, I heard some crazy stories about safety violations and reckless behavior on the job: True tales of lazy union workers at convention centers who drove their trucks off steep, concrete docks, then called the service technician for repairs, rather than work on sunny summer days. There were the bored, idiotic third-shift drivers in rug factories who “jousted” on forklifts sporting 10-foot-long carpet-pole attachments. With one-ton weight capacities, these steel lances poked through warehouse walls and knocked down heavy-duty racking systems.

Today’s Internet surfers can view “Jackass” genre digital videos of incidents like this on YouTube, but safety is no laughing matter. The dangers of falls in the workplace are well documented. I was told of an inebriated order-picker truck operator on the night shift who somehow got strung up in ceiling rafters overnight, unable to call for help in the pre-cell phone era. When the warehouse manager walked in at 7 a.m. the next morning, the soon-to-be former employee was dangling by a safety harness, fast asleep. (Thankfully, he did not fall.)

Just last year, UK envelope printer First Class Post was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £1,041 in costs for putting workers at risk by allowing them to be lifted nearly 20 feet in a plastic box perched atop a forklift during quarterly stock checks. In England alone from 2010 to 2011, 38 people died as a result of a workplace fall and more than 4,000 suffered a major injury from falls, reported Britain’s health and safety executive.

Out in the field, safety regulations have progressed quite far since Terex, a division of General Motors, created the first digger derrick in 1945 to dig holes for utility poles. (Source: Digger derrick trucks equipped with a boom and bucket are used to lift and ground workers near power lines. While statistics are not yet available for 2012, in 2011 some 4,609 workers overall were killed on the job in the United States. If that number seems high, consider that in 1970—the year before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established by the US Department of Labor—the number of work-related deaths was nearly triple.

Hoisting Standards

In late 2010, OSHA released an historic, new standard addressing the use of cranes and derricks. Some 15 years in the making, the “Cranes and Derricks in Construction Rule 29, CFR Part 1926,” considers the technological advances in equipment since the publication of the old rules 42 years ago.

Printing firms have taken safety seriously for decades, of course. The Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA) has a formal safety recognition program, for example. Myriad offset plants that I’ve toured proudly hang banners in pressrooms and binderies proclaiming safety milestones. Two million working hours without a lost-time accident can translate to a streak of several years, depending on the number of employees and shifts. Those are Brett Favre-like, ironman numbers for injury-free factories.

Under the new OSHA Cranes and Derricks rule, employers must determine whether the ground is sufficient to support the anticipated weight of hoisting equipment and associated loads. The employer is then required to assess hazards within the work zone that would affect the safe operation of hoisting equipment, such as those of power lines and objects or personnel that would be within the work zone or swing radius of the hoisting equipment. The employer also is required to ensure that the equipment is in safe operating condition via required inspections.

In addition, employees in the work zone require training to recognize hazards. The new OSHA rule demands that every crane operator be certified by November 10, 2014. Employers must pay for certification or qualification of their currently uncertified or unqualified operators, OSHA stated.

“If you are a sign company using a mobile crane, your individual operators need to have [official] certification by then,” said Matt Rumbaugh, director of education at the International Sign Association (ISA), which already has trained more than 200 crane operators and uses NCCCO, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, to do so. NCCCO has compiled numerous resources to assist employers, operators, riggers, signalpersons, and others in better understanding the personnel qualification requirements under new federal OSHA rule. (Go to for more information.)

The new standard also addresses key hazards related to cranes and derricks on worksites, including the four main causes of worker death and injury: 1) the aforementioned electrocution, 2) crushed by parts of the equipment, 3) struck-by the equipment/load, and 4) falls.

More than Training

The November 2014 operator certification deadline looms large, but most sign companies are not budgeting until next year for the training, which can cost up to $1,000 per operator (not including lost time on the job and travel expenses). “It’s a five-year certification, so I can see why people might want to wait until next year,” pointed out ISA’s Rumbaugh, adding that the association is gearing up to add more convenient, online training later this year.

Darrel Wilkerson, Jr., VP of operations for Wilkie Mfg., noted that while the training requirement doesn’t kick in for 21 months, new regs regarding job sites and equipment inspections have been in effect since November 2010. “Power line clearance is one of the biggest changes,” said Wilkerson, whose Oklahoma City-based firm sells new and used trucks. “Ten feet used to be the rule of thumb, but now it’s 20 feet. If you’re within 10 to 20 feet of a power line, there is a whole bunch of things you need to do, like have spotters and elevated flags and do pre-planning. It’s a real process [now].”

The new rules for daily, monthly, and annual equipment inspections are much more stringent, too, explained Wilkerson, who serves on the ISA Crane Taskforce. “There even are regulations for cranes under 2,000 pounds,” he said. “In the past, there were maybe five to seven pages [of documentation] dedicated to crane safety; now there are 200.” Wilkerson himself has already led a half-dozen seminars or so in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, helping folks to understand all the changes.

Even though there is no “grandfathering in,” OSHA has been lenient for the past two years. “But that is going to change,” warned Wilkerson, who said he has heard firsthand from several inspectors. “Most have just been slapping wrists so far, but I’ve heard of a few citations being written and people being shut down. The fines are coming. They’re making cranes a priority as 2014 draws closer.”

Why are OSHA inspectors soon to be riding herd on cranes? It’s all about saving lives and reducing injuries. The final standard is expected to prevent 22 fatalities and 175 non-fatal injuries each year, the government agency estimated.

So far as the operator certification component is concerned, Wilkerson advised not to procrastinate and wait until the last minute. “Remember,” he stressed, “it’s not just the sign industry that needs this training. The lines will get longer as this year goes on.”

Editor’s note: Answers to frequently asked questions can be found online:

4 New Requirements

According to OSHA, signage installers need to keep in mind these four requirements:

  • a pre-erection inspection of tower crane partsuse of synthetic slings in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions during assembly/disassembly work
  • assessment of ground conditions
  • qualification or certification of crane operators; and
  • procedures for working in the vicinity of power lines

Crane Operator Training

OSHA’s Cranes and Derricks in Construction Rule 29 CFR Part 1926 requires that every crane operator be certified by November 10, 2014.

The International Sign Association (ISA) Crane Training program includes three days of training followed by a Core Written Exam, a Telescopic Boom Crane – Fixed Cab (TSS) Specialty Written Exam, and a Telescopic Boom Crane – Fixed Cab (TSS) Practical Exam allowing companies to comply with the new requirements.

Cost includes written and practical exam fees and all training materials:

ISA Member Rate: Early Bird Registration (15 days prior to first day of event): $995; Registration 14 days prior to first day of event: $1045

Nonmember Rate: Early Bird Registration (15 days prior to first day of event): $1495; Registration 14 days prior to first day of event: $1545

Training courses also include Signal Person and Rigger Certification.


Download and complete the ISA Crane Training Registration Form and return to ISA, via fax to (703) 836-8353, email to or mail at ISA, 1001 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 301, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Tom’s Left Foot

Building damage is bad enough but when truck operators, employees, or innocent bystanders get injured, safety violations are far from a laughing matter. Just ask Tom Neuhengen.

Neuhengen, a 30-year-old staff sergeant in the Wisconsin National Guard, survived two tours in Iraq but almost lost his left foot last fall when a 58,000-pound forklift knocked him down and ran over it on September 18, 2012. The accident happened during a booth teardown at the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show at McCormick Place, Chicago.

“After four surgeries and the use of leeches to keep blood circulating, doctors saved most of the foot, but Neuhengen lost his left heel,” the Chicago Tribune reported in late November. It could be at least a year and another operation before he can walk again, said Neuhengen, who resides in Cudahy, WI, near Milwaukee, and is the spare parts manager for Hermle Machine Co. Surgeons reconstructed the foot using his thigh muscle and skin.

In question are new union rules allowing for smaller work crews. Neuhengen told the Tribune the forklift that hit him had a crew of one, with no spotters. An OSHA investigation is under way as is a $350,000+ lawsuit alleging negligence against the lift-truck driver, subcontractors, and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which is the state agency that owns McCormick Place.