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Excuse Me Judge. About Those Crane Safety Rules You Tossed Last Week

Tons of steel crash down onto a New York sidewalk. Another crane collapse. And one wonders if U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro is tuned into CNN, watching rescue workers pull the dead from the crush of metal and rubble.

Last Tuesday, Judge Ungaro issued a temporary restraining order, stopping Miami-Dade from enforcing crane safety standards the county commission passed two months ago. The judge, just in time for the beginning of hurricane season, bought into the high rise construction industry's claim that the new rules would put them out of business in Miami-Dade County.  It was a curious argument, given that the commission seemed to have based its ordinance on existing safety standards adopted in other states.

The local need for safety standards became grotesquely apparent in 2006, when a mishap in downtown Miami sent a crane operator plunging 39 stories to his death. Then, on March 15, a 22-story crane toppled over in Manhattan, killing seven, including a Hialeah woman. Ten days later, another tower crane accident hit Miami, 30 stories up, killing two workers.

Since, there have been fatal crane collapses at construction sites in Kansas City and Annapolis.  But the industry was able to kill crane safety legislation in the Florida legislature and waylay the Miami-Dade ordinance last week in federal court.

But the collapse in New York Friday was a reminder that, beyond the legal arguments, actual lives are at stake. (Earlier Friday, three workers were killed in a crane collapse in Shanghai).  Of course, the feds, and OSHA, haven't revived crane standards in 30 years, forcing states and cities and counties scrambling to fill the void.

Except, in Miami-Dade, the judge says no. Just as hurricane season begins. 


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