Proposed Changes to Crane Operator Certification Rule

by Melanie Baravik
June 4, 2018

UPDATE 6/18/18: OSHA has extended the comment period for this rule — previously it closed on June 20, but has been extended to July 5.

Late last year, OSHA delayed the implementation of the crane operator certification rule, adding another year to smooth out a few more kinks. As of this post’s publication, the rule is set to take full effect on November 10, 2018.

When the rule was delayed last fall, we took a look at a few provisions that are up for debate during the delay period. On May 21, OSHA released a proposed rule revising some of the most contested parts of crane operator certification. Let’s see what’s changing so far.

Capacity certification removed

A long-standing point of contention, certification by crane lifting capacity, will no longer be part of the final certification rule. Though it never actually took effect, the requirement was not popular. Previously, the rule stated that operators needed to be certified by capacity and by crane type. Following the original rule’s 2010 publication, some accredited certification programs did not add the capacity certification because it was too expensive and didn’t actually have any safety benefits.

That was no doubt a large factor in OSHA’s decision to do away with certification by crane lifting capacity. If it had remained, many operators would have been forced to get another certification, making the process more expensive and time-consuming. OSHA estimates cost savings of about $28 million from eliminating this requirement — money saved from operators not needing a second certification or from not needing more training to increase their lifting capacity.

As it stands, certifications will be issued according to crane type. There’s no guarantee that won’t change, however, as the rule’s effective date is still several months off and OSHA is taking public comments on the latest proposed rule.

Employer responsibilities clarified

The proposed rule clears up another concern raised by the construction industry — that certification alone would not be adequate proof of operators’ skills. Most employers have already begun to comply with the rule — during the initial phase-in period from 2010-2014, they were required to ensure operator competency regardless of certification. That provision was due to be eliminated with the 2014 effective date, but many in the industry opposed its removal. Each time the rule was delayed, the employer obligation was extended (meaning it’s currently in effect until November).

Because the elimination of employer responsibility was widely opposed, between 2013 and 2015, OSHA visited more than 40 stakeholders — those with vested interest in this rule — to see how they were evaluating their crane operators. The agency found that none of these stakeholders — made up of construction firms, insurers, state agencies, labor unions and crane manufacturers — would allow an individual to operate a crane based on certification alone.  Every single organization would require further evaluation of crane operators’ skills.

In light of that fact, the rule’s latest revision proposes a permanent employer obligation to ensure operator competency. Many important skills are not covered during a standard certification test, including operating near power lines, assessing unstable loads and hoisting in tight spaces. Throughout the proposed rule, OSHA notes that several stakeholders compared operator certification to a learner’s permit — technically the person can operate the vehicle (or crane), but there are many skills they may not have yet learned.

Before the issuance of this proposed rule, it was unclear whether or not further training would be required once an operator is hired. Should this rule be finalized, employers will be obligated to provide ongoing training to ensure operators can use cranes safely, whether they’re using an entirely new machine or performing new tasks. OSHA is asking for input on trainer requirements — for example, does certification automatically qualify an individual to be a trainer? Or should they have a certain number of hours of experience?

Help OSHA answer those questions and others during the public comment period during which you can submit your comments and get involved in industry rule-making. Get your two cents in before the comment period closes on June 20.

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