FALL 2018
OSHA Publishes Final Rule on Crane Operator Certification and Qualification

By Anna DeBattiste

At last, we have a final rule from OSHA regarding operator certification and qualification.  No more guessing games!  Here is everything you need to know about the final rule that was published in the Federal Register on November 9th.  If you have a lot of patience and want to read all 200 pages yourself, you can do so here.

1.  There is no more requirement that certification be by capacity.  We already knew this was happening, and in response, our primary certification provider, NCCER, dropped capacity from their designations earlier this year.  Certification must be by type (or it can be by type and capacity) and it is up to the accredited certification organization to define type.  Each cert does it differently.

2.  The final deadline for certification is December 10, 2018.  No more extensions.

3.  Employers must pay for the cost of certifying their current employees, regardless of when they were hired.

4.  In addition to certifying operators, employers must also qualify them on the specific equipment they are running.  This is the biggest and most important change to the regulation, so pay attention, folks

After extensive comment from stakeholders, OSHA realized that certification alone is not enough.  Certification establishes a baseline of knowledge and skill, but operators must then be observed and evaluated on the specific equipment they run and the type of tasks they are doing, and that evaluation must be documented and made available at the worksite.  This is similar to the 2010 requirement that signal persons and riggers must have documentation showing qualification. 

Here’s a helpful analogy I stole from Crane Hotline Magazine’s November 9th press release: “Certification would be like passing the test to get an automobile driver’s license. Evaluation of competence would be like an employer making sure a licensed driver has the skill and experience to drive the company’s fully-loaded pickup truck on ice and snow before letting him or her drive in the winter.”

Until an operator is both certified and qualified, s/he is considered an operator-in-training and can only operate under the direction and continuous monitoring of a qualified trainer.  The qualified trainer can also be the evaluator. The trainer must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Must be an employee or agent of the operator-in-training's employer.  If you are a one-person operation, or a small employer without the in-house expertise to have your own trainer, you can hire someone to be the agent (like us, of course!)
  • Must have the knowledge, training, and experience necessary to direct the operator-in-training on the equipment in use.  Note that your trainer does not have to be a certified operator (although it certainly couldn’t hurt, and might help you establish the trainer’s qualifications)
  • Must be in direct line of sight and continuously monitor the operator-in-training, without doing anything that would detract from their ability to observe.  The trainer can take short breaks as long as they last no longer than 15 minutes and are no more often than one break per hour.  Before taking a break, the trainer must tell the operator-in-training exactly what to do during the break and what the limitations are, and must make sure these tasks are within the trainee’s ability.

Once your operator is ready for evaluation, here is what OSHA says the goals of evaluation are:

  • To ensure that the operator has the ability to safely perform the assigned work
  • To ensure that the operator has “the necessary skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize and avert risks in order to safely operate the actual equipment that will be used”

These performance-based evaluations are meant to be more directly focused on the operator’s ability to perform assigned work than the general knowledge and skills tested during the certification process.  In other words, they are task- and equipment-specific, and the operator must demonstrate “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 includes, but is not limited to, lifting capacity, boom length, attachments, luffing jib, and counterweight set-up.”  The evaluation should also include specific activities that might be required such as blind lifts, multi-crane lifts, and hoisting personnel.

Employers do not have to evaluate their operators in every possible configuration of equipment or combination of configuration and boom length, etc., that would factor into a crane’s capacity. Additional evaluations are only required when the operator’s existing skills, knowledge, or ability to identify and avert risk are not enough for that operator to operate the equipment in a new model or configuration.

If you have already evaluated an operator prior to the effective date of the new rule, you can rely on that evaluation as long as it’s documented.  However, employers cannot rely on the evaluations of previous employers; you must conduct your own.


The documentation of evaluation must include the operator’s name, the evaluator’s name, the date of the evaluation, and the make, model, and configuration of the equipment on which the operator was evaluated. But the documentation does not need to be in any particular format. You have the flexibility to capture this information using your own existing systems.

The employer must also provide re-training in relevant topics for each operator when there is an indication that retraining is necessary. Triggers for re-training might include feedback from an onsite supervisor or safety manager, contractor, or other person who observed that the operator was operating equipment unsafely; an OSHA citation; a crane near-miss; or any other incident that indicates unsafe operation of the crane.

The deadline for operator evaluation is February 7, 2019.  Any operator not certified and evaluated by then is considered an operator-in-training and must be monitored.

So, how can New England Crane School help, if you need help with compliance?  We have the following options:

  • Although we will probably run fewer certification classes per year once the deadline is past, we will still have at least a couple per year, and we will continue to offer a once-a-year NCCCO class for those who prefer CCO to NCCER.  We have an NCCER certification class for you last-minute folks in Dover, NH on December 11 – 14th.   It only has a handful of slots left, so call us soon if you need one.
  • For smaller organizations without the ability to train and/or evaluate operators in-house, we will soon begin offering third-party operator evaluation services on an hourly consulting basis.  We will also continue to offer private practical training services for rookies on an hourly basis.
  • If you have a potential employee in-house that can train and evaluate your operators but need some help setting up the program and making sure that person is qualified, we can also help you with that on an hourly consulting basis.
  • Finally, our new lift director qualification classes in 2019 will address the issue of setting up your in-house qualification program.  We have two of these scheduled as of now: February 12 – 13 in Portland, and February 21 – 22 in Burlington.

Feel free to call me anytime with questions on the final rule!  If I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to find out.  I am always best reached on my cell phone: 303-817-5663, or you can email me at anna@newenglandcraneschool.com.




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