Federal Regulations do not Preempt New York City Crane Laws, Court Holds

In a decision that is being appealed, a federal judge in New York has recently issued an opinion delineating when a city such as New York can regulate the use of cranes. Specifically, the case addressed whether or not federal OSHA regulations preempted statutes and regulations enacted by the City of New York. Given how common crane accidents seem to be lately in the New York area – not to mention the severity of potential injuries – this ruling has the potential to greatly impact the construction industry in New York. This particular decision outlines a state’s and municipality’s ability to protect construction workers – and the public at large – by creating their own safety regulations in an effort to prevent crane accidents.

OSHA and New York Crane Laws

Taking center stage in this particular dispute are both the federal and local laws that regulate crane use and safety in New York. In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which gave a federal agency – OSHA – the power to promulgate regulations regarding worker safety. In fact, the most recent OSHA regulations regarding cranes went into effect late last year.

New York City’s Building Code also has laws regarding hoisting equipment, including cranes, which sets basic requirements regarding operation and maintenance of the equipment. New York law requires extensive inspection before the cranes can even be used, not to mention strict laws regarding hazardous cranes – all of which can go beyond what federal regulations require.

Federal Preemption

The party attempting to invalidate the NYC laws is a trade organization with members in the construction industry – and it is probably doing so since they believe it will be more burdensome to not only follow OSHA regulations, but also NYC laws as well. Their argument was based upon the legal concept of preemption.

Basically, preemption is the idea that when a state or municipality attempts to create laws in an area in which the federal government has determined they should control, the federal laws trump the local laws. This idea is based upon the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution which says the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land…any Thing in the Constitution or Law of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

However, the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution does reserve powers to the states that are not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, and traditionally health and safety matters have been historically considered local matters for states and municipalities.

In this particular case, the trade organization argued that since the federal government chose to regulate crane use with OSHA regulations, New York City laws are preempted. Ultimately, the question turned on whether or not the federal government intended to preempt state and local laws when they passed the OSH Act.

Although the court addressed various legal issues surrounding preemption, the judge made particular note of the “manifest absurdity” of the trade organization’s position – mentioning that there is hardly a requirement in the New York City Building Code that does not constitute a direct and clear regulation of worker safety and health, so holding that the “OSH Act preempts the City Crane Statutes would effectively wipe out much of the City Building Code.”

The judge went on to say, “It simply cannot be the case that DOB’s power to keep buildings from falling on people and other buildings-via rules that also help keep construction workers and crane operators safe-is superseded by the existence of OSHA regulations governing safety on a construction site.”

There is no way to elaborate on every issue addressed in the extensive court opinion – as such, the article should not be taken as legal advice – but, it is important to note that the court ultimately held that the NYC crane laws were not preempted by the federal regulations.

Regardless of the reasons for the court’s opinion, the NYC crane laws only add more protection to workers in an already inherently dangerous industry – after all; the safety of workers is what is most important. If you or a loved one has been injured in a crane accident due to violations of either federal or local regulations, contact an experienced attorney in your area today to be advised of your rights and options.

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