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NEWS > MAR 2020

OSHA Crane Operator Requirements: Has it Changed?

by Dennis J. O’Rourke, CSP

Various observers have been writing that the operator testing required by OSHA for Construction has changed. What has changed is documentation and some clarifications, how to determine a qualified operator — has not!

OSHA’s position is the same as it was in 1971. OSHA position, then and now, is that the employer is responsible for recognizing hazards and training their personnel on how to avoid these hazards. OSHA recognizes that unskilled crane operators are a workplace hazard.

OSHA crane operator
Photo courtesy of Dennis O’Rourke

Crane owners are to train and evaluate their personnel on the operations of their particular work conditions. It is as simple as that! However, the new administrative complexity written into the OSHA regulations — is confusing.

The testing that OSHA requires is intended as an entry-level credential. Like a driver’s license assures that you have the basic skills and knowledge of the rules, but you certainly are not ready for the Daytona 500. Only experience can do that.

OSHA has some control over crane operator qualifications, which they did not have before testing. Tests focus on the fundamentals of crane operations; I call it “Crane 101.” A good thing.

All-inclusive crane skills are not demonstrated by taking one test under ideal conditions. Cranes and operating conditions differ so enormously that it is almost laughable to expect one test to be adequate to ensure cranes are being operated safely. Two hydraulic crane’s working, one to build an oil rig, the other a house, it’s obvious the job activities, and operator duties are quite different. These are the accident causes: the operations — not being confused about which lever to pull!

Regulations are not intended to replace owner’s obligations. Crane owners need to train, evaluate, and determine if their company’s employees are qualified to do the work. The employer must fully understand what skills and knowledge are necessary by their employees to eliminate workplace hazards. Then set up their crane safety program.

Decades ago, a national safety committee was formed, and it concluded that operator testing for cranes was needed. This testing was to demonstrate that an employer used due diligence in crane operator selection. The members of this committee felt they were getting hammered with high insurance rates because of careless accidents caused by unqualified operates. The moment an accident occurs, the crane owner is backpedaling defending why their “appointed” operator was pulling the levers when the accident happened.

By reading depositions, it was revealed that operators were “raw meat” for the lawyers. Statements showed that the crane operators were not schooled as to how to describe the fundamentals of their trade to “outsiders” and were getting tripped up when testifying. Improving communication skills is one major reason to test; the operator must “talk the talk” as well as “walk the walk” of crane operations 101.

Therefore, before testing comes the training required to pass. Training is where companies come into play and how they compete for the opportunity to provide this training.

When the federal government passed the commercial driver’s license (CDL) legislation, the crane industry thought here is the answer. Let’s get the feds to issue crane operator licenses. However, (you knew this was coming), the feds said no. Crane activity is too diverse and should be industry regulated.

The information available at the time was gathered together (2002-9), establishing the baseline of knowledge thought to be the necessary Crane 101 topics. There are ongoing efforts in determining which private testing organizations are deemed worthy of providing this testing, five at this time with local contacts in most areas.

The big fight now is the paperwork administration of the testing, is it auditable. Has the IRS taken over OSHA? Are the tests fair, uniformly given, and did they follow acceptable methods of presentation, etc.? A simple form could show that. There’s an old Navy saying, if it’s not written down — it hasn’t been done! Now, like a bunch of lawyers, there arguing how it should be written down.

In summary, OSHA requires a minimum level of operator testing; they feel this fills their obligation to the American public. That leaves the crane owners with the obligation of providing qualified crane operators for their jobs.


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