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Crane Industry Officials Question OSHA's New Operator Certification Requirements

Thursday, April 4, 2013

By Bruce Rolfsen  

Most participants in an April 2 meeting between crane industry representatives and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said the agency needs to change the crane operator testing and certification requirements set to take effect in November 2014.

The comments came during the first of three OSHA stakeholder meetings with companies and organizations impacted by the testing requirements to hear what changes, if any, OSHA should make to how it interprets the testing and certification section of the cranes and derricks in construction standard, 29 C.F.R. 1926.1427. The meetings were prompted by industry complaints (42 OSHR 1081, 12/6/12).

Potential OSHA Actions

Jim Maddux, head of OSHA's Construction Directorate, told the approximately 50 people attending the session that OSHA's options include taking no action, changing the rule, or writing an interpretation or directive that addresses industry concerns.

Maddux indicated he did not foresee a major overhaul of the rule. “These requirements have a strong legal foundation,” he said.

Although the crane rule was approved by OSHA in 2010, the testing and certification provisions take effect Nov. 10, 2014. The rule incorporates recommendations made in 2004 by the Crane and Derrick Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee (34 OSHR 797, 7/29/04).

'Certification' Versus 'Qualification'

The industry members' primary concerns are with the “certification” and “qualification” of crane operators, how operators will be tested, and the subjects operators will be tested on, the participants told Maddux.

At the meeting there were significant differences of opinion on the definitions of “certification” and “qualification” and on who should decide whether an operator is qualified.

The standard requires operators to be certified by a third-party testing agency or by employers that use an evaluation program approved by a third-party agency.

Most of the participants said they view “certification” as fulfilling the basic requirements to operate a crane. They said “qualified” operators will have to pass additional evaluations conducted by employers to show they are capable of operating a specific crane.

Maddux pointed out the crane standard does not require employers to qualify operators. Instead, employers are required to use operators who are certified.

The different interpretations of “certified” and “qualified” were key to the discussion of OSHA's requirement that operators be certified based on the type of crane and the crane's capacity.

Escalating Costs

If OSHA requires an operator to have a third-party certification for each configuration of a crane and capacity the operator could handle, testing costs would escalate and thousands of operators certified under current voluntary consensus standards or state and local rules would have to be recertified by 2014, participants said.

Such additional costs were not envisioned when the rule went through its Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review in 2006, some participants recalled (36 OSHR 947, 10/26/06).

If OSHA adopts a broad interpretation to being certified on the crane's type and capacity, employers will not need to recertify operators as frequently, many of the participants said. Qualifying operators for specific configurations and capacities could be done in-house by employers without the oversight and additional cost of a third party.

Defining Capacity

Another issue raised at the meeting was how OSHA should define a crane's capacity.

Typically, capacity is based on the weight the crane is designed to lift, but several participants offered other definitions. Capacity could also be based on the length of a crane's boom, the actual weight of a load to be lifted, or a combination of factors, participants said.

Also raised was the issue of testing operators for a specific weight capacity or a range of capacities. Several people suggested that instead of requiring a new certification each time an operator is assigned to a higher-capacity crane, OSHA should set broad weight categories. For example, one certifying organization approves operators for three weight groups: 0-21 tons, 22-72 tons, and 73 tons or greater.

Maddux offered few opinions during the three-hour session. After the meeting, he told BNA that OSHA has not set a timeline for when the agency will respond to the suggestions raised during the stakeholder sessions, which continue through April 3.

By Bruce Rolfsen  


OSHA's information page for the cranes and derricks standard is http://www.osha.gov/cranes-derricks/.

 

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