Any crane accident is bad press for the construction industry, but when the number of high-profile accidents adds up to more than you can count on one hand, people start paying attention.
With several jobsite deaths last year and pending Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) legislation, contractors should expect to contend with new federal crane safety rules and regulations on the horizon for riggers, signalpersons and operators.
“The total visibility of several crane accidents in the past couple years has brought crane safety to the forefront,” says Ted Blanton, Sr., president and CEO of the North American Crane Bureau (NACB)
, Lake Mary, Fla.
While most contractors already take measures to ensure their crane operators are well-trained and qualified, new rules and regulations could mean extra requirements for third-party testing and additional OSHA oversight.
Contractors must prepare to meet the challenge and set a strong safety example for the rest of the industry, with workers at the ready to participate in new training and testing programs. By being proactive and getting involved in the rulemaking process, construction companies can address upcoming crane safety regulations with minimal interruption to business practices.OSHA Update Is Much Needed
OSHA’s current crane safety standards, drafted in 1971 and not updated since 1988 and 1993, are overdue for major revisions. The standards have not evolved to account for current jobsite practices, such as computerized equipment, and the construction industry has been pushing for reform for the past five years.
OSHA’s crane and derrick draft rule, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 9, 2008, but still pending approval, would require crane operators in all 50 states to undergo more training and to pass written and practical tests. Currently, states are only required to adopt OSHA’s most basic crane safety recommendations, and most states create their own separate policies.
Advocates for uniform crane safety standards say the increase in accidents last year is a sign that the old, inconsistent way of doing things is failing. But many smaller construction firms are concerned the new rules will mean increased compliance costs.
New OSHA standards would toughen requirements on inspecting ground conditions, the assembly and disassembly of cranes, the operation of cranes near power lines, the certification and training of crane operators, the use of safety devices and the inspection of cranes.
Crane operators would have four options under the new requirements: certification through an accredited third-party testing organization, qualification through an audited employer testing program, a U.S. military-issued qualification, or qualification by a state or local licensing authority.
Organizations such as the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators
, Fairfax, Va., and the Crane Institute of America, Inc
., Sanford, Fla., offer third-party testing programs for mobile, tower and overhead crane operators, riggers and signalpersons.
In May 2006, the NACB partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)
to develop and deliver an additional testing program for mobile crane operators.
NACB utilizes specialized crane curriculum designed by the NCCER, which develops training and testing for construction schools and other organizations.
The two organizations gathered recommendations from a team of crane subject matter experts to ensure the written and practical test material would be relevant and specific to a contractor’s needs.
Not only does the testing meet or exceed the ASME b30.5 and OSHA standards, but the tests also are specifically tailored to skill sets required of certain machine operators.
NCCER next looked to Prov, a test development and assessment provider, to create sound metrics for testing the recommended knowledge and skills areas.
On Dec. 9, 2008, the program was accredited by the American National Standards Institute, which is considered the highest accreditation that can be achieved.
After a year and a half, the NCCER Crane Operator Certification System is off to a good start, Blanton says.
“It’s pretty new data, but the positive result so far is that we know the crane operators in the seat have reached a certain level of competence as deemed by the organizations that have put this curriculum together,” Blanton says.Certified Assessment Centers
The NCCER operates nearly 400 assessment centers in the United States for certifying workers in various trades. Currently, 12 of these centers are endorsed to offer the specialized written and practical crane exams.
In order to administer practical examinations, examiners must successfully complete a specialized course conducted by NACB.
Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Pelican Chapter, for example, is now a NCCER-endorsed center, and any ABC member firm can use the site to certify its crane employees.
At these sites, a test lift for a particular type of machinery can be set up within minutes because the site conditions and the examiner already have been vetted and approved. The program is flexible enough to be applied on any jobsite.
Individual companies may become certified as assessment centers, as well. Crossland Construction Company, Inc.
, Columbus, Kan., became a crane operator certification provider last year at the outset of the new program.
“We initially became an assessment center for credentialing our people in-house, plus we already offered NCCER training onsite, so we had a double win,” says Clay Kubicek, the company’s education director.
Crossland Construction employs two certified practical examiners and three written test examiners. So far, the program has been a success for the company, which has trained 10 crane operators and certified six.
“The training is the critical part of the experience,” Kubicek emphasizes. In other words, certification is meaningless without the training, mentoring and monitoring behind it.
During the practical exam, an operator must demonstrate manual skills, such as manipulating a block or ball through a series of movements, to show competence to operate the equipment.
The practicals, which cover 13 different types of equipment, are specific to what crane operators actually use on the jobsite. This equipment-specific testing makes the NCCER program unique among other programs, and more relevant to employees.
“We test people onsite on the equipment they already know,” Blanton says.
Operators who operate hydraulic lattice boom trucks, for example, don’t need to test for telescopic boom trucks, unless they choose to take the practical tests in multiple categories.
“It makes no sense to test someone for a lattice boom crane if they will never operate one,” Blanton explains. “That’s like saying you need to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer because you want a license to drive a pickup truck.”
Following the written and practical examinations, an operator’s test results are sent directly to Prov, and the employee’s credentials are instantly updated in the NCCER’s National Registry. Involvement Is Key
Although time-intensive, investing in crane operator training and certification can be a boon to contractors.
“It provides for the safety of their employees, which is foremost,” says Steve Greene, NCCER vice president. “It should help reduce employers’ insurance and workers’ compensation costs. Anytime you can keep your employees safe, it’s a smart business investment.”
Crossland Construction’s commitment to certification and training goes hand-in-hand with the company’s commitment to providing a safe work environment for employees.
“We want to do things the right way and the safe way. We don’t want people getting hurt,” Kubicek says. “We don’t just do it for the paper.”
Because many contractors are concerned about future licensing and regulations affecting their businesses, the NCCER produced sample language that can be submitted to state legislators to help make crane safety regulations more amenable.
“We want to make sure legislation is fair and encompassing, and provides for free enterprise,” Greene says.
Blanton recommends contractors get involved—and stay involved—in future crane legislation in their cities and states. Contractors need to be proactive, working with local industry groups to develop regulatory
language that’s going to work for them.
“As a business owner, I don’t like the government getting involved in my business, but the truth of the matter is that operator certification laws are coming, and at a federal level,” Blanton says.
“If contractors put their head in the sand, they’re not going to get a standard they want.” For more information on training and certification, visit www.nccer.org, www.cranesafe.com, www.craneinstitute.com or www.nccco.org. To read ABC’s testimony on the propsed OSHA rulemaking, visit www.abc.org/comments.Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) recently published a summary of recommendations from the ABC Construction Industry Crane Safety Summit. The report identifies practical, preventative actions and educational materials for use on jobsites. Ninety experts—including crane manufacturers, employer and employee representatives, safety trainers and insurers—met in Houston last September to participate in the summit and discuss crane safety in the wake of several high-profile accidents. To view the report, visit www.abc.org/cranesummit.