OSHA Extends Crane Operator Certification to 2017

By Roy Maurer Oct 1, 2014
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule extending the deadline for crane operator certification by three years to Nov. 10, 2017.

Employers are still responsible for ensuring that crane operators are competent to operate a crane safely during this three-year period.

The certification requirements were published in the Cranes and Derricks in Construction final rule in 2010. The rule required crane operators on construction sites to meet the certification requirements by Nov. 10, 2014.

“After publishing the final rule, a number of parties raised concerns about the Standard’s requirement to certify operators by type and capacity of crane and questioned whether crane operator certification was sufficient for determining whether an operator could operate their equipment safely on a construction site,” OSHA said.

OSHA plans to reconsider the type and capacity requirements for crane operator certification and whether certification is sufficient for safe operation by the 2017 deadline.

As currently written, construction crane operators would have been required to be certified under at least one of four options by Nov. 10, 2014:

  • Certification by an independent testing organization accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting body.
  • Qualification by an employer’s independently audited program.
  • Qualification by the U.S. military, for Department of Defense employees only.
  • Compliance with qualifying state or local licensing requirements.

OSHA acknowledged that the third-party certification option was the only portable one, in which the operator could go to any employer and produce their certification as evidence of compliance with the regulation. The certification option is also the only one that is available to all employers.

The agency said it is not aware of an audited employer qualification program among construction industry employers, and that while state and local governments certify some crane operators the vast majority of operators who become certified do so through third-party testing organizations.

OSHA estimates that there are 71,700 operators certified for type only, 15,000 operators certified for both type and capacity, and 30,430 crane operators without any crane certification.

Employers had protested that the agency’s requirement for type and capacity certification would be costly and time-consuming and that operator certification did not mean that the operator was fully competent or experienced to operate a crane safely on a construction worksite. Participants at a May 2014 public hearing likened operator certification to a new driver’s license, and said that the operator’s employer should retain the responsibility to ensure that the operator was qualified for the particular crane work assigned. Some stakeholders noted that operator certification was beneficial in establishing a minimum threshold of operator knowledge and familiarity with cranes.

“The extension was needed, based on industry concerns as to who possessed compliant certification,” said Kevin Cannon, director of safety and health services at the Associated General Contractors of America, the leading association for the construction industry with 30,000 member firms. “OSHA’s own estimates point to the need to extend the deadline. Eighty-three percent of certified operators would’ve been viewed as noncompliant on Nov. 10, 2014. That would’ve been very disruptive to the industry,” Cannon said.

“Ultimately we’d like to see those 71,000-plus operators currently possessing certifications that are viewed as noncompliant be taken into consideration for going through the certification process,” he said.

The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators also supports the certification extension in order to give OSHA the time it needs to “address important industry concerns regarding certain aspects of these requirements including whether certification, in and of itself, is equivalent to qualification, and whether certifications should be issued by the capacity of the crane as well as by type.”

The commission’s executive director, Graham Brent, argued that concerns should be addressed as quickly as possible, pointing out that “the positive impact of professionally developed, third-party accredited crane operator certification on the incidence of deaths and injuries caused by crane activity has been amply demonstrated.”

Brent added that since the majority of certified crane operators have been certified by type of crane, and not by capacity, if OSHA should drop the requirement for certification by capacity, “then the impact on industry would be minimal, and little additional phase-in time would be needed.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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