Certification is Only the Beginning

Certification is Only the Beginning is an article regarding crane operator training and certification requirements.

I’m still not sold on the value of the new crane operator certification requirements that are spreading across the country, at least not in the manner in which they appear to be being implemented. In my opinion there are a number of holes in the system and worse yet, too many take the presentation of an operator’s certificate as some rite of passage for the operator to do whatever needs doing which is simply not the case.

If a crane operator is able to provide a certificate issued by an ‘accredited certifying entity’ as required in several states and quite likely all of them in the not too distant future, it only indicates that he/she successfully met the minimum requirements of a standardized program. It does not mean that the bearer of the certificate is capable of handling every crane operation that may be required on a given work site.

I was horrified to learn from two certified crane operators that they were not required to inspect or set up their crane or rigging during a recognized and indeed mandated certification process. I was also told by the same two people that the unit they were given to use was some ancient thing that didn’t even begin to represent the type of units they were used to operating on the job.

I know that one could argue that rigging is a separate job function but in my end of things, pick and carry type operations are the norm and it usually consists of a millwright using a mobile crane or boom truck by himself and he is usually the on that rigs the load as well. You can call that wrong or improper any number of things, I call it reality. I know that doesn’t make it right but there you have it.

I find all this rather frustrating especially in light of the requirements of OSHA’s powered industrial truck operator training standard (CFR29 1910.178(l)) in which the criteria for site and equipment specific training is detailed and evaluation of the operator’s competence must be conducted in the workplace. Reasonable and responsible requirements that put the responsibility on employers to create operators capable of running the machines they actually operate in the conditions and applications they actually face. While for some reason the crane operator certification requirements focuses on creating operators capable of producing a card that attests to the fact that they received generic training were found competent at operating a crane that may or may not resemble the ones they actually use through a test course that may or may not resemble anything they actually do with their equipment at their work site(s).

Hey I’m all for safety, and certification is not a bad thing but it has to be done in such a way as to address actual equipment and site issues just like the forklift operator training standard does. Furthermore, state/fed regulatory OSH regulations, not a third party, should be where employers can turn to find any required certification criteria. Those same employers should also be ones to determine if an operator is trained in accordance with those criteria and able to demonstrate competent in the job(s) at hand.

At the moment, we have a lot of unqualified crane operators getting behind the controls and being asked to engineer some significant lifts, completing a standardized evaluation is not going to solve anything. Granted, operators will likely have an elevated knowledge of the basic principles and that will certainly help but it hardly qualifies them as being “capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them,” the very definition of competence according to OSHA.

I want to re-iterate that I am not against crane operator certification, only the way it is being implemented. I believe that the way things are being done at the moment fosters a dangerously false sense of security amongst employers by first, eliminating them from the process and second, providing no follow up to address site and equipment specific concerns found a the workplace. I know this because I am one of those employers. I plunked down about two grand to get my guy trained and tested, never got a scrap of documentation or a phone call, only a credit card receipt and to cap it all off, the operator is now using the certification I paid for with another employer and there nothing I can do about it, except to tell you thanks for letting me vent.

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

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