A crane operator must possess a unique set of skills and knowledge beyond just attaching a ling to the hook.
Acontadini/istockphoto.com A crane operator must possess a unique set of skills and knowledge beyond just attaching a ling to the hook.

There has been much discussion recently about OSHA’s crane regulations and requirements. In 2010, OSHA released one of the largest subparts it has ever published for the construction industry. Officially titled, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC, this document imposed many new regulations on the industry, covering everything from ground conditions and set up, to rigging and signaling, and more.

Most of the new rules took effect back in 2010, however, the new regulation requiring that operators have a formal “crane operator” certification was deferred until October 2014. As we approach that deadline, there have been calls to extend the date and open new hearings on the validity of the published requirements. Here at the OSHA Training Institute Education Center, we field quite a few calls from people inquiring about the status. At this time, nothing has been changed or deferred from what was established in the 2010 regulations, although it is still possible we will see some changes before October. However, this is certainly one of those issues where it is important to look past the regulations and into best practices.

Regulations are designed to be minimum standards. When new rules are written, a group of people get together and attempt to codify a set of rules that apply to as much of the work as possible. In the construction industry, we face changing conditions and a new environment almost daily. On a large project, there is often a single crane servicing the entire project and all of its trades. That crane operator may be working with the formwork contractor in the morning, the reinforcing contractor later that afternoon, and then hoisting concrete buckets early the next day. Not to mention hoisting materials for the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing contractors in between.

All the while the job progresses, meaning the site conditions change literally every day. With these challenges, it is important to look past the regulations and adopt a common sense approach that balances production and safety.

October deadline

The 2010 regulations intended for all crane operators to be certified by October 2014. Whether this changes or gets extended, a company must make sure its crane operators are qualified. The new regulations give the absolute authority to stop work to the crane operator, placing a huge burden on this person to be trained in safe operations, proper load handling and calculations, and overall hazard recognition. Whether or not this person has a certification card, the employer still must make a determination on the operator’s qualifications and ability to handle a given piece of equipment under a given set of circumstances.

While the crane operator will remain unchanged throughout the day, the same is not true for the people hooking up loads to the crane and giving the crane signals to move the load to its final destination. Each trade will probably have its own personnel for conducting these tasks and it is critical that these people also be properly trained. The regulations published in 2010 require the employer to use a formal training and evaluation program in order to declare a rigger or signaler “qualified.”

This formal program can be done in-house, but it must consist of documented evaluations, both written and performance-based. This ensures that a rigger knows how to properly secure a load to the crane, and that the signaler understands how the crane operates so they can give the proper commands. It is not uncommon for the load to be completely out of the operator’s view, placing the burden on these two individuals to make sure the load can be safely transported.

Unique skills

Again, conditions change frequently, and rigging a large table form that must be pulled out the side of the building and moved up a level is a very different operation than using a nylon sling to rig a bundle of post-tension tendons for transport up to the top floor. Each of these situations requires a unique set of skills and knowledge beyond just attaching a sling to the hook.

This knowledge includes knowing what type of rigging is appropriate for the load being handled; what is the capacity of the crane and how does it change as the operator booms out; what set of hand signals are being used, and do the signaler and the operator both understand what they mean; and what is the capacity of the formwork or deck that the load is being transported to (watch out for point loading during construction).

All of these things illustrate the importance of ensuring that the operator, rigger, and signaler are properly qualified. As an employer, it is critical that you look past whatever card they might be carrying and ask questions to determine if a person is truly qualified to handle the task at hand. The use of cranes makes the construction of our buildings and bridges possible, but it continues to be a leading cause of injuries and fatalities on construction sites. Taking steps to make sure that we have trained, qualified people performing these functions is a significant step toward ensuring a safe and productive project.

Jim Rogers is director of the Western OSHA Education Center at the Del E. Webb School of Construction, Arizona State University. E-mail jimrogers@asu.edu.