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Frequently Asked Questions about Crane Operator Certification

In November of 2010, OSHA released new regulations regarding the use of cranes and derricks in construction. The new final rule 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 provided in this update:

  • Effective November 10, 2018 (this date was formerly November 10, 2014), operators must be formally qualified or certified
  • As of November 10, 2010, signal persons and riggers must be qualified.
  • 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 or 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.  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: 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: What are the requirements for crane operators to be certified or qualified under the new standard?

A: The current regulation reads that by November 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

Q: Do I have to do anything  about operator certification or qualification right now, or can I wait until the deadline?

A: Per OSHA, employers have already been required to ensure that equipment operators are qualified by training and experience to operate the equipment safely. That duty was extended when the deadline for certification was extended.  Employers must assess the operator's skill and knowledge for the particular type of equipment s/he is assigned to operate, and if s/he does not have the required knowledge or ability to operate the equipment safely, the employer must train that employee prior to allowing him or her to operate the equipment and must evaluate the operator to confirm that he/she understands the information provided in the training.

In states where certification is not required by the state, however, you do not need to formally certify your operators now unless your insurance carrier or the GCs you work with require it. This includes NH, VT and ME.  We do recommend that you get an early start. Successfully passing the tests is a process that sometimes takes more than one attempt, and training/testing providers will be getting busier and busier as the deadline approaches.  Also, more and more insurance carriers and GCs are requiring certification on their own, for safety and liability reasons.

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

A: A series of written exams specific to the type and capacity 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 four nationally accredited certifications that are recognized by OSHA:

  • 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
  • Crane Institute Certification (CIC), which is accredited by NCCA

New England Crane School is a qualified provider of NCCER testing, as well as preparation classes.  We can also offer NCCCO training and testing, on an onsite basis, upon request.

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, signal and rigging requirements, and practice tests.  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 an signal/rigging card.

Q: What’s the difference between “certified” and “qualified” as it relates to crane operators?

A: The OSHA rule uses the word “certification” to describe a process whereby an operator passes both written and practical tests administered by an accredited testing organization, like the NCCER.  The rule uses the term “qualification” in describing the three other options:  (1) qualification by an audited employer program; (2) qualification by the U.S. military (limited to employees of the Department of Defense or members of the Armed Forces); and (3) licensing by a government entity.  If you are working in a jurisdiction that requires a state or local crane license and the licensing process meets the requirements of this standard, your operator must obtain such a license.

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 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 recertification 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 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 unlicensed operator to become certified?

A: If your operator was employed by you when the final rule went into effect, in November of 2010, then yes.  Per § 1926.1427(a)(4), employers must pay for certification or qualification of their currently uncertified or unqualified operators.

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.

For more information:

Occupational Safety & Health Administration Small Entity Compliance Guide for Final Rule for Cranes & Derricks in Construction
http://osha.gov/cranes-derricks/small_entity.html

STATE-SPECIFIC LICENSING REQUIREMENTS

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

The state agency that handles state licensing is the Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire, Emergency and Building Services, Office of the State Fire Marshall. You must submit an application which lists your practical experience, pay an application fee, pass a written exam, and pass a practical exam which covers inspection, lift pre-planning, set-up and operation of the crane. You can find the application here.

Connecticut is in the process of revising their testing process so that it meets the federal floor, and when this is finished, a CT license will suffice for meeting the national OSHA requirement for all operators of equipment with a capacity of 5 tons or more.  For operators of equipment under 5 tons, a nationally accredited certification such as NCCER will meet the requirement for CT licensing.

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.

Massachusetts

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.”  For an FAQ, go here.

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.