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June 6, 2019

Mobile crane operators

Do they need to be certified, qualified and evaluated?

Brian S. Hope, CSP, ASP

As I travel throughout the country and speak with safety managers, facility managers, supervisors, and other safety professionals, the one constant question I hear is, “What type of training and certification do my mobile crane operators need?” The 1926.1400 final rule, issued on Nov. 7, 2018, was meant to clarify and give direction to the industry concerning the training requirements of mobile crane operators working in the construction industry. Unfortunately, it has created more confusion than clarity throughout the industry. Many questions still remain and the answers will most likely not come quickly. There’s going to be interpretation letters and court rulings needed in order to give the industry additional guidance.

1926.1427(a) states, “The employer must ensure that each operator is trained, certified/licensed, and evaluated in accordance with this section before operating any equipment covered under subpart CC, except for the equipment listed in paragraph (a)(2) of this section.”

The first step in determining what your operators need, is to determine what tasks your operators will be performing. This goes much more in depth than a determination of Construction vs. General Industry. This fundamental question isn’t as elementary of a determination most believe it to be. Sometimes it’s difficult to decipher whether a task falls within General Industry or Construction.  Construction, as defined by OSHA, does not just relate to new construction. On Aug. 11, 1994, Federal OSHA issued an explanation to their Regional Administrators offering guidance on this exact issue. You can read the entire letter here.

OSHA considers Construction work as, “construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating.” Most members of management that I interact with from “General Industry” facilities don’t believe their maintenance staff, skilled trades, etc. are required to meet the 1926.1400 requirements.  However, upon detailing their description of work, many tasks would be considered “construction work” based on OSHA’s interpretation. Because of this fact and the fact that many of these tasks are completed utilizing a mobile crane, these mobile boom crane operators would be required to meet the 1926.1400 requirements.

I’ll attempt to break down the basic requirements of certification, qualification and evaluation below:

Once the determination is made that you operate within OSHA’s Construction Standards (1926), the employer must ensure that each operator is certified or licensed to operate the type or type/capacity of mobile cranes they’ll be operating. This can be accomplished by the operator becoming certified through an accredited crane operator testing organization and/or licensing through the requesting Local or State jurisdiction. First, each employers work site must determine if there is a jurisdictional licensing requirement. Once this is determined, the decision can be made what certification/licensing requirements must be met. Certifications are valid for five years, unless an event occurs that requires the operator to become re-certified.

Whether the operator falls within Construction or General Industry, they are required to be qualified by their employer. Qualification is achieved once the operator possesses the skills, knowledge and ability to recognize and avert risk necessary to operate the equipment safely for assigned work. Simply put, the operator must be trained to safely operate the equipment they are going to operate. With this being said, operators must successfully complete a written and practical component of a training program to show proficiency with the equipment they will be operating. The employer may choose to qualify their own operators or utilize a third party to qualify their operators.

Certification will not meet qualification and qualification will not meet certification; one can’t be interchanged for the other. Many employers have made the mistake of believing that when their operators become certified, they automatically meet the qualification component. This belief is emphatically false.

The newest component to the Crane and Derrick Standard, is that each operator is to be evaluated. OSHA states, in 1926.1427(f)(1)(i) that the operator must have “the skills and knowledge, as well as the ability to recognize and avert risk, necessary to operate the equipment safely, including those specific to the safety devices, operational aids, software, and the size and configuration of the equipment. Size and configuration include, but is not limited to, lifting capacity, boom length, attachments, luffing jib, and counterweight set-up.” OSHA goes on to say that the evaluation must be conducted by an individual who has the knowledge, training and experience necessary to assess equipment operators. The evaluator must be an employee or agent (third party) of the employer. The evaluation must include: the operator’s name; the evaluator’s name and signature; the date; and the make, model, and configuration of equipment used in the evaluation.

Once the evaluation process has been completed, OSHA states that, “the employer may allow the operator to operate other equipment that the employer can demonstrate does not require substantially different skills, knowledge or ability to recognize and avert risk to operate.” Therein lies the confusion!

When taken at face value, this seems like an insurmountable task. I’ve spoken to Federal OSHA in Washington and they assure me this was not the intent of the added evaluation component. OSHA explained that the intent was to ensure the employer is evaluating their operators on the equipment they’re assigned and ensuring the operator is qualified to operate the equipment as it’s configured. OSHA wants to ensure an operator isn’t being required to operate a piece of equipment they’re not familiar with.

In summary, the employer must first determine what level of certification and training will be required of their operators. The employer must then plan and facilitate the training and evaluation to ensure their operators are properly certified and/or trained on the equipment they’re assigned to operate. Please feel free to email me, or call at (502) 269-2608, if I can further assist you with any questions or training needs.

You can also reach out to your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative with questions.