In this spotlight on crane safety, Construction Executive interviewed Hank Dutton, Travelers’ senior technical specialist for construction and risk control, on the impact of OSHA’s new certification requirements for crane operators.

What are your thoughts on the new OSHA certification requirements for crane operators?

The way we look at it, the certification requirements encourage contractors to pursue training, which is a critical component of safer crane operations. The benefits obtained through this training and certification process go far beyond compliance by aiding businesses with the risk management issues they may face. 

We’re pleased to see many industry leaders already taking steps to ensure the construction industry is operating as safely as possible, but we hope more will follow. Too often, accidents could have been avoided if employees had received additional training. Hopefully this new certification requirement will contribute to fewer accidents and injuries. 

What should contractors expect in November 2017, when the time extension for the Cranes and Derricks standard (Subpart CC) expires?

While many contractors already have met the requirements by certifying their crane operators or by meeting state license requirements where applicable, some have not. We are seeing an increase in the number of requests for classes, as well as classes filled to capacity, to prepare crane operators for their certification exams. I would expect this trend to continue well into 2017. We are encouraging contractors not to wait until the last minute to train and certify their employees because it can have a positive impact on safe operations and potentially reduce accidents. 

What impact do you think the regulations will have on existing state requirements and the construction industry as a whole?

Several states and cities already have begun discussing requirements for crane operator certification and licensing, so there should be less of an impact. However, contractors in states that fall under the federal OSHA standard for cranes and derricks (Subpart CC) will need to ensure their operators meet the requirements, if they have not already done so. 

For the industry as a whole, Subpart CC goes beyond operator qualification and certification by addressing other issues, including controls needed when working around power lines, inspections, and how to ensure the ground is sufficient to support the anticipated weight of loads and equipment. Although the federal requirements for operator certification have been delayed until November 2017, it’s important to remember that the other parts of Subpart CC are currently enforceable. 

How can construction companies best prepare and train their crane operators to meet the new requirements?

Because certification involves both written and practical exams, “seat time” alone might not be enough to prepare a candidate for the written portion, which covers rules and regulations as well as comprehension of rated capacity charts. That’s one reason we recommend quality classroom training. Operating a crane in the field doesn’t necessarily indicate how a worker will perform on the written exam, and classroom training can help in that department.

Because Subpart CC is more comprehensive than the previous crane standard, everyone involved in crane operations, not just the operators themselves, should receive training. This might include site supervisors, as well as management personnel, given that they could have an impact on crane operations.

There are also requirements for riggers, signal persons and lift directors, so it is important to train them as well. Lastly, training shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Periodic refreshers can provide a safer work environment and help employees stay current on crane safety issues and the latest machinery.

Why is it so important to properly train employees early, particularly in the construction industry? 

Twenty-eight percent of workplace injuries occur within an employee’s first year, so the first few months of employment are the most critical for employee training. Beyond the obvious concern for employee health and well-being, injuries also can lead to project disruptions, increased costs to train replacement workers and damage to a company’s reputation. This is why it’s critical for senior management to be engaged in communicating and enforcing a thorough safety program.

What are the most common crane-related accidents?

Typical causes over the years have included cranes being overloaded, contact with overhead power lines and crane setup issues.

Accidents from an overloaded crane result when the operator isn’t properly trained in how to interpret the crane’s capacity chart and how to calculate the amount of weight that can be safely placed on the crane’s hook. 

Sometimes crane accidents are categorized as operator error, when in fact the root cause was something beyond the operator’s control. An example is when a load is rigged in the blind (out of the operator’s view) and then falls off as it’s lifted because it has not been properly rigged. According to federal standards, the responsibility to inspect rigging before each lift belongs to the rigger, not the operator.

How can companies avoid crane-related accidents?

Having a well-trained lift team can significantly reduce risks associated with crane operation. Because a safe lift requires communication among everyone involved, it’s vital to train all employees who make decisions that can impact the outcome of load-handling activities, as well as those working around crane operations.

For new workers, jobsite orientations set the standard. Include hands-on demonstrations where applicable. Encourage seasoned employees to pay close attention to less experienced workers and to watch for mishaps. Cross-team mentoring, whether formal or informal, is a great way to make this a smooth process. 

What else should employers consider about crane safety and the new OSHA regulations?

With labor challenges greatly impacting the construction industry, it’s crucial for business owners to fill the talent pipeline with qualified workers. Taking the time to hire the right candidate may seem daunting, but it’s worth it in the end. Also, adhering to the aforementioned guidelines can help maximize employee safety, reduce the number of accidents and ensure projects are completed without disruption from crane-related accidents. 

Lauren Pinch is managing editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email pinch@abc.org, visit constructionexec.com or follow  @ConstructionMag.