Frequently Asked Questions about Crane Operator Certification

In November of 2010, OSHA released new regulations regarding the use of cranes and derricks in construction. After several extensions of the certification deadline and an additional rule-making period, the final rule was published on November 9, 2018, and can be found in 29 CFR Part 1926.1400 subpart CC on the OSHA website.

Here is a brief summary of the main changes to the regulations:

  • Effective December 10, 2018, operators must be certified by type, but not necessarily by capacity.
  • Effective February 7, 2019, operators must undergo a task- and equipment-specific evaluation by their employer.  This evaluation must be documented and available on the jobsite.
  • As of November 10, 2010, signal persons and riggers must be qualified, and must have documentation of qualification available on the jobsite.
  • Employers, including crane users and controlling contractors, must ensure that ground conditions are adequate to safely support the equipment.
  • New requirements applicable to assembly and disassembly will protect workers from being struck or crushed by unanticipated movement of crane components, as well as require equipment to be properly assembled.
  • New requirements for maintaining sufficient clearance distances from power lines hazards.
  • Fall protection requirements are clarified in the standard.
  • The new rule expanded upon the requirements for equipment (such as floating cranes) that was subject to few requirements in the prior standard.

Here are some of the most frequent questions we hear at New England Crane School relating to the requirement for operator certification and qualification, along with answers from both us and from OSHA:

Q: What qualifies as a crane that requires a certified operator under the new regulations in subpart CC?

A: A piece of equipment that can hoist, lower and horizontally move a suspended load, and hoists more than 2000 lbs, and is engaged in construction-related activity or on a construction site.  A piece of equipment that is only used to lower a load, e.g. to unload materials from a truck to the ground, is generally excluded from coverage.  Articulating side boom cranes (i.e. “knuckleboom cranes”) are excluded on a limited basis (see below).  For more info on what kinds of cranes are covered and excluded, go here.

Q: How does OSHA define "construction-related activity" and distinguish it from maintenance activities?

A: OSHA's regulations define construction work as "construction, alteration and/or repair, including painting and decorating."  Maintenance activities, on the other hand, have generally been defined as making or keeping a structure, fixture or foundation in proper condition in a routine or scheduled fashion.  For example, the replacement of something like a utility pole with an identical pole would be considered maintenance and would therefore be considered a general industry activity, but if it were replaced with improved pole, it would be considered construction and would fall under the construction standard.

Q: Is my forklift covered, if it has a telescoping boom?

A: No.  But you do need a forklift certification or qualification, per OSHA.

Q: I deliver materials to a construction site using a flatbed truck equipped with an articulating crane. At the site, I use the crane to move the materials from the flatbed onto the ground. Must I comply with the standard?

A: No. Subpart CC does not apply when construction materials are delivered from the flatbed to the ground at a construction site and the crane is not used to arrange those materials in a particular sequence for hoisting. This is considered a general industry activity covered by applicable requirements of 29 CFR Part 1910.

Q: I deliver materials to a construction site using a flatbed truck equipped with an articulating crane. At the site, I use the crane to move the materials from the flatbed onto the structure being erected. Must I comply with the standard?

A: This depends on the type of materials you are moving.  In general, movement of material onto a structure under construction is a construction activity that is subject to OSHA construction standards. However, subpart CC contains a limited exclusion from coverage of the cranes and derricks standard for when goods delivered directly to the structure are building supply sheet goods or building supply packaged materials such as sheets of sheet rock, sheets of plywood, bags of cement, sheets or packages of roofing shingles, and rolls of roofing felt. In situations where the equipment is used to hoist and hold any materials in support of their application or installation, articulating/knuckle-boom equipment must comply with subpart CC. The use of articulating/knuckle-boom cranes to deliver materials onto a structure is also covered by subpart CC when the types of materials delivered are similar to materials such as: steel joists, beams, columns, steel decking, or components of systems engineered metal buildings; precast concrete members or panels; roof trusses, (wooden, cold formed metal, steel or other material); and prefabricated building sections such as but not limited to, floor panels, wall panels, roof panels, roof structures, or similar items.

Q: I work in the propane industry, and my association lobbied OSHA to drop the certification requirement for operators performing the routine work of installing propane tanks.  Do I have to be certified?

A: The final OSHA ruling on this issue is that operators who are installing new propane tanks on a construction site must be certified, but operators who replace existing tanks do not need to be certified.

Q: What are the requirements for crane operators to be certified under the new standard?

A: The current regulation reads that by December 10, 2018, all crane operators (except operators of derricks, sideboom cranes not used in construction, and equipment rated at 2,000 pounds or less) must be certified/qualified under one of four options. These options are:

  • Certification by an accredited crane operator testing organization;
  • Qualification by an audited employer program;
  • Qualification by the U.S. military; or
  • Licensing by a state or local government entity that meets the “federal floor,” or the minimum requirements of 29 CFR Part 1926

Certification by an accredited testing organization is portable, but qualification by an audited employer program or by the U.S. military is not portable and may not be relied upon by another employer.

Q: What is employer qualification, and how is that different from certification?

A: As of the publishing of the final rule on November 9, 2018, the requirement for employer qualification is new and is in addition to the requirement for certification.  Click here for a full explanation of the employer qualification requirement.

Q: What does certification by an accredited testing organization involve?

A: A series of written exams specific to the type of the equipment you’re operating, and a practical exam. Pre-exam training is not required by OSHA but we strongly recommend it. We have found that even very experienced operators tend to need some time in the classroom to prepare for the written exams.

Q: What are the options for certification by an accredited crane operator testing organization?

A: There are three nationally accredited certifications:

  • For union members, the union that represents crane operators (International Union of Operating Engineers)
  • The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), which is accredited by the NCCA and ANSI
  • The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), which is accredited by ANSI

New England Crane School is a qualified provider of NCCER testing, as well as preparation classes.  We also offer NCCCO training and testing, a couple times per year on an open enrollment basis or anytime on an onsite basis.  To hire us to do an NCCCO onsite certification class, you must be willing to be set up as an NCCCO-approved test site, which involves some additional administrative work and requires at least one month's lead time.  An NCCER onsite class, however, can be done without setting you up as a test site.

Q: What are the classifications of exams offered by NCCER through New England Crane School?

NCCER tests in four main categories of mobile crane types: industrial (carry deck), telescoping boom, lattice boom, and boom truck.  Within each category you need only take one written exam and one practical exam to receive one or more certifications.  For more information on the NCCER exam classifications, click here and download the Paths to Mobile Crane Operator Certification flow chart.

Q: What training is required before taking NCCER exams?

A: No training is required for an experienced operator prior to taking exams, either by OSHA or by the NCCER. However, we have found that even very experienced operators tend to need time in the classroom to prepare for the written exams. Our three-day preparation course includes one day of general knowledge concepts, one day of load chart problems, and one day for OSHA/ASME standards, and signal and rigging requirements.  We use practice tests extensively throughout the class.  Even after taking a three-day prep class, a significant number of operators end up having to re-take one or more written exams.

Q: Who, besides crane operators, signal persons and riggers, are affected by subpart CC?

A: Employers who use cranes and derricks in construction work must comply with the standard. In addition, other employers on construction sites where cranes and derricks are used are responsible for violations that expose their employees to hazards and, therefore, they need to address the requirements of the standard that may affect their employees. Crane lessors who provide operators and/or maintenance personnel with the equipment also have duties under the standard.

Q: If I become an NCCER-certified crane operator does that mean I’m a qualified signal person and/or rigger?

A: No, not necessarily. If your employer can evaluate and document your experience and/or training and meet the OSHA requirement for self-qualification as a signal person or rigger, you’re all set. But the crane operator certification process does not qualify you as a signal person or a rigger.  If you cannot self-document as qualified, we recommend that you take our one-day Qualified Signal Person and Rigging class, which will give you a qualification card from New England Crane School assuming you pass our tests. Most of our operator certification classes include an optional, free signal/rigging class that same week for those operators registered in the class who also need a signal/rigging card.

Q: How is NCCER certification different from state licensing programs?

A: Licensing by itself does not necessarily ensure an individual possesses necessary skills and knowledge. Some state and city programs do not require training or testing, for example. NCCER certification provides a nationally recognized certification that meets OSHA requirements no matter what state you’re operating in. However, depending on what state you are operating in you may still need to meet state licensing requirements in addition to becoming certified (see specific state requirements for the Northeast below).

Q: How long is a certification by an accredited crane operator testing organization valid?

A: Certification is valid for 5 years, per OSHA. After 5 years, it must be renewed to confirm that the operator’s knowledge and skills are up-to-date, and that includes repeating both the written and  practical exams.  New England Crane School accepts re-certification candidates in any of its regularly scheduled certification classes, at a reduced price, and candidates may attend as much or as little of the prep class they think they need.

Q: Can certifications be carried from one employer to another?

A: It depends on how it was done. A third-party certification by an accredited organization such as the NCCER or NCCCO is portable. Certification by an audited employer program or the US military is not, however.

Q: Do I, as an employer, have to pay for my uncertified operator to become certified?

A: Yes, if they are currently employed when the certification requirement goes into effect on December 10, 2018, then you must pay for their certification.

Q: Must an operator speak English in order to become certified?

A: No. Per the OSHA regulation, an operator may be certified in any language s/he understands, and this language must be noted on the certification documentation. Currently New England Crane School does not offer certification in any languages other than English; however, we may be able to help you find other resources if you have a need for a foreign language test.

Q: My operator was certified by New England Crane School, and the practical exam was conducted on our company's crane, so doesn't that count as my evaluation of the operator?

A: No, unfortunately not.  If we conducted a practical exam on the crane your operator actually runs, that meets the requirement for an equipment-specific evaluation, but it does not meet the requirement for a task-specific evaluation.  Task-specific means the operator must be observed and evaluated doing the actual work s/he is normally assigned to do.  Our practical exam is composed of simulated activities in which we don't even hoist actual loads.

Q: How do I train new operators if they are not allowed to operate without being certified and qualified?

A: You can designate them as an operator-in-training, and they can operate under the continuous monitoring and supervision of a qualified trainer.  The trainer can also be your evaluator for qualification purposes.  The trainer must meet these requirements:

1. Must be an employee or agent of the operator's employer.  If you are a one-person operation, or a small company without a person qualified to be a trainer, you can hire a third-party to be your agent (like us!)

2. Must have the knowledge, training and experience necessary to direct the operator-in-training on the equipment in use.  The trainer does not have to be a certified operator.  For example, it could be an experienced operator who retired from operating before the certification requirement went into effect.

3.  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 (e.g. being on their cell phone).  The trainer can take short breaks as long as they are no longer than 15 minutes and no more often that once per hour.  Before taking a break, the trainer must tell the trainee exactly what to do during the break, what the limitations are, and must make sure the tasks are within the trainee's ability.

Q: What does the documentation of evaluation need to look like?

A: It 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.   It does not have to be in any particular format, so you can set up your templates however you like, or contact us for resources.  Although OSHA does not specify this, we also recommend that you document the tasks performed by the operator during the evaluation.  You must keep the documentation during the full course of the operator's employment, and it must be available on the jobsite.

Q: I have operators who run many different cranes and perform many different tasks.  It seems like I have to do an awful lot of evaluations to make sure I am covered.

A: The OSHA rule specifies that you only need to conduct a new evaluation when the operator will be performing tasks or using equipment that require a different skill set than what they have previously been evaluated for.  For example, say you have already evaluated an operator's ability to lift a crate of materials onto a roof using a particular crane, and then you assign that operator to a different crane.  If the new crane is the same type of crane with substantially similar controls, you don't have to re-evaluate them.  But say the previous evaluation was on a telescoping boom crane with stationary controls, and now the operator will be on a crane with rotating controls.  You need to do a new evaluation.  Here's another example OSHA gives: "If an inexperienced operator has already been evaluated for operation of a new model of crane, but has only used that equipment to hoist packaged materials, the employer would need to evaluate the operator's ability to control a wrecking ball attachment before allowing the operator to use the wrecking ball in a demolition project."

Q: I am a one-person operation, or a company with no one who is qualified to evaluate my operator(s).  What do I do?

A: The OSHA rule allows you to hire an agent to conduct your evaluations.  You can hire someone like us on an hourly consulting basis; call or email us for details.

For more information:

Occupational Safety & Health Administration Small Entity Compliance Guide for Final Rule for Cranes & Derricks in Construction


Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont currently have no crane operator licensing or certification programs, so operators in those states need only comply with federal regulations for operator certification/qualification.


Connecticut has their own licensing program, and as of 2018, it meets the "federal floor."  What this means is that CT operators who operate only within the state of CT can meet both the state and the federal OSHA requirement by passing their CT licensing exams.  To apply, go to the state of CT's licensing website.  You must be an apprentice for two years before taking your exams, and you must take your written exam before your practical exam.

If you work in other states besides CT, you will need to meet the federal requirement for a nationally accredited certification in addition to CT's license requirements.  One main difference between CT and a nationally accredited cert is the recertification period, which is five years for a nationally accredited certification, but four years for CT.

Rhode Island

The RI Department of Labor and Training, Professional Regulation Unit, oversees hoist licenses for “hoisting engineers.” A hoisting engineer is defined as someone that operates power construction equipment that uses steam, internal combustion engines, electric or compressed air of five horsepower or more and/or lifts more than 500 pounds. A hoisting engineer license application may be found here. The application requires you to list your work and educational experience, and pay application and test fees. There are two written exams: one for employees that is not portable, and a second one for general contractors that covers operator, lift director and rigger requirements and is good for life as long as you pay dues each year.

New York (not including New York City)

The New York Department of Labor, Safety and Health Licensing and Certification Unit issues a Crane Operator’s Certificate of Competence. Crane operators must have three years of practical experience prior to applying. This practical experience is to be obtained working under the direct supervision of a certified operator. Once the application is accepted, the applicant must pass a written exam and a practical exam to become certified.  There are five classes of license, and you can find descriptions of each with the corresponding application here.


The Mass Department of Public Safety currently requires a hoisting license. The scope is broader than the federal OSHA scope and includes loads that exceed 500 pounds and “anyone who will operate derricks, cableways, machinery used for discharging cargoes, temporary elevator cars used on excavation work or used for hoisting building material, when the motive power to operate such machinery is mechanical and other than steam, must hold a license from the Department.”  

The hoisting license is obtained by filling out an application listing your experience, passing a written exam, paying an application fee and submitting a DOT medical certificate. You must also be 18 and have a valid driver’s license. The written exam is specific to the type of equipment you want to be licensed for. You can access the application and other related resources, including recommended study materials, here.

The state also has a new continuing education requirement as of 2014.