OSHA's Research on Crane Operator Qualification Process

OSHA has conducted more than 40 site visits, conference calls, and meetings with construction employers, crane rental companies, testing organizations, insurers, state government agencies, trade associations, and crane manufacturers who were willing to discuss how crane operators are trained and qualified at their worksites and their views on the operator qualification process, in general. During these discussions these companies described their business models for bringing cranes to construction sites, their operator qualification programs, and how operator certification fits into their programs. Twenty-six of the site visits/interviews were drafted into written reports; while other conversations were informal or representatives did not want their comments to become part of the formal rulemaking record for various reasons.

OSHA's 26 written reports of these discussions were reviewed by the company representatives for accuracy. The Agency has based much of its draft proposed regulatory text on information from these site visits. OSHA will include the site visit reports in the rulemaking docket when a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

To date, OSHA has spoken with industry representatives that include:

  • 3 Crane rental companies [1 large (100 or more cranes), 1 medium (over 20 cranes), 1 small (less than 20 cranes)]
  • 10 Construction Companies that own/operate cranes [homebuilders, tank builders, propane delivery, steel erector]
  • 3 large construction/operator training companies
  • 5 Crane Manufacturers
  • 3 Labor Unions
  • 2 Safety Consultants/Trainers
  • 4 state agencies and British Columbia's qualification program
  • 1 sole proprietor / owner operator homebuilding company
  • 3 crane insurers
  • Certification testing bodies and accrediting entities.

Lessons Learned

  • None of the company representatives would let an operator run one of their cranes based solely on his/her possession of an operator's certification.
  • Most company representatives did not understand that once the operator certification requirement of the 2010 cranes standard took effect, employers would only be required to ensure that their operators were certified and that standard required no further evaluation of a certified operator's competency.
  • Most general contractors require their subcontractors to verify that their operators are certified and will intervene when there are indications that the actions of a crane operator compromise the safety of a worksite.
  • There were strong similarities in the operator training and qualification programs described by the company representatives.
  • Typical operator qualification programs include:
    • Training of New Operators
      • Formal class room
      • Initial skills training
      • On-the-job experience and learning (driving, set up, maintenance, rigging, ground conditions, inspections, familiarization with the crane)
      • Mentoring provided by experienced operators
      • Practice in cab at storage yards or at job sites
      • Start on smaller cranes/shorter boom lengths
      • Start as operator on simpler, low-priority jobs and lifts
        • Typically takes 1-3 years to fully qualify, depending on the person and equipment used
      • Evaluation at steps along the way
    • Evaluation of Experienced Operators
      • Often aided by completion of union apprenticeships (about one-half of these employers had operators from IUOE)
      • Evaluation is based on an interview, a practical test on a crane, CDL, testing, certification if any, experience on similar construction cranes, and checking references
      • Proficiency in performing basic hoisting jobs is confirmed by evaluations conducted by experienced operators or other designated evaluators
      • Experienced hoist crews and customers may provide feedback during the performance of jobs that only graduate in difficulty as experience is demonstrated
      • Some employers track incidents and training status
      • Assessment is on-going
  • Most employers value 3rd party certification, but typically expect this to be achieved early in their qualification programs. Most emphasize certification as a verification of basic skills, like:
    • reading load charts,
    • recognizing basic crane hazards,
    • inspection,
    • knowledge of applicable regulations and company work practices, and
    • familiarity with basic crane functions.
  • Employers reported that the value of certification's practical test was limited, since operating the crane for that test was performed without actual loads or conditions typical of a construction worksite.