Crane Operator Certification Requirements Questioned

By Roy Maurer April 5, 2013

Update: The certification deadline for crane operators could be extended three years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced May 22, 2013.

The new proposed deadline is Nov. 10, 2017, replacing the previously announced compliance date of Nov. 10, 2014.

In public meetings held by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) April 2-3, 2013, crane-industry representatives voiced concerns about and requested changes to crane operator testing and certification requirements that are set to take effect in November of 2014.

Stakeholders affected by the testing requirements set in the 2010 Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard were most concerned about the definition of a “qualified” operator, the requirement that operators be tested and certified on each capacity and type of crane they will operate, and the recertification of certified operators by the effective date.

After the rule was published, OSHA received numerous questions involving these provisions, leading it to conclude that additional industry input was needed, said Jim Maddux, head of OSHA’s Construction Directorate.

Maddux told those assembled that OSHA was seeking input but was not considering a major overhaul of the rule, as the regulation has a strong legal foundation.

Qualified Is Not Certified

Many at the meeting questioned language in the standard, specifically the use of the word “qualified” as being the result of being certified when applied to crane operators.

The standard requires operators of most cranes with more than 2,000 pounds’ capacity to be certified by an accredited crane-operator-testing organization when the equipment is used in construction.

“OSHA needs to revisit the language of ‘qualified,’ ” said Barry Cole, a safety consultant and the owner of Preferred Safety Products and Cole-Preferred Safety Consulting.

A person being qualified is determinate of many other things other than the ability to pass a test, he said. “As far as this standard is concerned, qualified means ‘one who has passed a training class that meets OSHA’s standard and has the documentation that proves it.’ ” It doesn’t specify whether he is able to properly operate the crane, he noted.

“OSHA should switch the language from qualified to ‘he is allowed’ or ‘we would not cite for training, certification or documentation purposes’ if an accident occurs,” Cole said. “That happens a lot. People are certified but still tip over cranes.”

Most of the participants said they viewed certification as fulfilling the basic requirements to operate a crane and a prerequisite to being deemed qualified. They said qualified operators should be defined as those who pass additional employer evaluations demonstrating that they are capable of operating specific cranes.

The bottom line: The employer—not the third-party accrediting agency—has to be the one to decide who is qualified to operate a crane, most of the stakeholders agreed.

Type and Capacity

The provision requiring testing organizations to provide different levels of certification based on capacity and type prompted concerns from the crane industry.

OSHA explained in the final rule that operators would be allowed to run cranes with capacities below that for which they were certified but not cranes with higher capacities.

Some participants asserted that operating cranes of different capacities does not require significantly different skills that can be tested, so certification by capacity is, therefore, unnecessarily costly and not useful.

“The major differences of types of cranes are minor when it comes to tipping them over or dropping loads or hitting power lines,” said Cole.

How a crane’s capacity is defined was also discussed at the meeting.

Typically, a crane’s capacity is based on the weight it is designed to lift, but participants told OSHA that it could also be based on the length of a crane’s boom, the actual weight of a load to be lifted, or a combination of factors.

Participants suggested that OSHA set broad weight categories instead of requiring a new certification each time an operator is assigned to a higher-capacity crane. 

Recertifying Currently Certified Operators

Industry representatives expressed concerns over the cost and impracticality of recertifying the thousands of certified operators by 2014 if OSHA requires an operator to have a third-party certification for each configuration of a crane and capacity the operator might handle.

There is no grandfathering provision in the rule.

“The reality is, we have a lot of good operators out there who’ve been operating cranes for 20 or 30 years, with excellent safety records, that without being grandfathered would need to be certified,” said Dennis O’Dell, administrator of occupational health and safety at the United Mine Workers of America. “I caution as we move forward with this that we don’t lose those good operators or penalize them.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Article:

Crane Operators Required to Be Certified Under New Rule, SHRM Online Safety & Security, August 2010

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