Necessary training, sufficient evaluation

11 June 2018

In late May, US regulator OSHA published a much-anticipated new notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. This further clarifies how the US federal government plans to set rules for operator certification.

The proposed rulemaking removes the requirement for operators to be certified by capacity (while suggesting an option for certificating bodies to include mention of capacity). It makes clear that while certification is a necessary step in showing an operator has some of the basic skills needed to operate a crane, it is not a sufficient basis for assessing all of their skills.

The document makes clear why certification is needed. It says that, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 47 crane operators were killed between 2011 and 2014, noting that this does not include accidents with non-fatal injuries or crane incidents causing fatalities or injuries to workers other than the crane operator. It goes on to cite a report by HAAG Engineering, which analysed 507 incidents the firm has investigated over 30 years, including 147 fatalities: 28 of those killed were operators, and 119 were other employees. OSHA describes the long process of developing the proposed rulemaking, and the recent round of consultation as it sought to respond to industry concerns about a capacity requirement, and whether certification should be considered as qualification.

The question of how much weight certification should carry, gets the most attention. Even for those outside of the USA, this discussion should be of great interest.

It explains some employers describe certification as a 'learner’s permit', and a number stated that they would not allow a certified operator to use their equipment without first also evaluating the operator to verify competence. A training company for crane operators stated that 'only a fool' would rely on certification alone as an assessment of an operator’s ability to safely operate a crane at the worksite. Another training company representative stated that operators with very little experience can acquire a sufficient basis of knowledge of the crane to pass a certification exam without being truly qualified to operate independently and safely on a construction work site.

Comments like this clearly show that the industry does not view certification as the last step in evaluating operator skills, but one of the first. It should form part of an ongoing process of evaluation.

OSHA, citing comments from US operators' union, the IUOE, lays out some of the activities before which an employer should evaluate operator's skills, beyond those covered by certification. These examples include inspecting the equipment; assessing unstable loads; hoisting loads of irregular size; operation from a barge; personnel hoisting; rigging the load; leveling the crane; hoisting in tight spaces where there is greater opportunity for damaging parts of the crane other than the load line; making judgments about wind speed and other environmental factors that can impact the performance of the equipment; performing multiple crane lifts; travelling with or without a load; operating near power lines; hoisting light loads; and hoisting blind picks where the operator cannot see the load.

The document describes one fatal accident where an operator was working on a similar crane to one they had used before, but with controls in different positions. It gives further examples of a fleet of similar cranes, where some have software controlling safety devices and some do not.

In all these cases, employers should evaluate operators' skills. While the proposed rulemaking lays out some basic information that should be included when documenting this evaluation, it does not go beyond this in specifying documentation. Importantly, it gives employers and their trainers a lot of flexibility.

OSHA says that some commenters appear to have mistakenly assumed it would require each evaluation to be in the form of a time consuming formal test rather than a much simpler observation of the operator performing construction operations using the crane. The required supplemental re-evaluation of a previously evaluated operator can focus on the operator’s abilities to handle the differences between the new equipment and the one previously assigned; it would not require a complete evaluation of all of the operator’s skills, knowledge, and abilities.

The document can be read in full at

Will North, editor