New OSHA requirements for crane operators

Last fall, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) announced it was finalizing changes to the certification requirements for crane operators established in the 2010 crane rule. After extending the final deadline several times over the years, on Nov. 10, 2018, new certification requirements took effect. For dealers, this means that unless the crane operator is covered by the material delivery exemption, you must ensure the operator is certified to operate a truck mounted articulating boom crane.

As a refresher, to qualify for the material delivery exemption, a truck mounted articulating boom crane must be outfitted with automatic overload protection device, have a fork or cradle assembly attached directly to the end of the boom, and limited to hoists of sheet goods (such as drywall or plywood) or packaged goods (such as roofing shingles, bags of cement, or rolls of roofing felt). The current rule also exempts deliveries that are placed directly on the ground without aiding the contractor with subsequent lifts.

Some activities that do not qualify for the material delivery exemption include truss setting and hoisting prefabricated building components. The material delivery exemption does not allow companies to hold material in place or follow the construction activity with a hoist.

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Assuming that a crane operator is not exempt under the material delivery exemption, it is important to remember that certification alone is no longer sufficient for compliance.

Previously, OSHA viewed operator certification as sufficient for demonstrating competency. However, many employers pointed out that certification functioned as a “learner’s permit” and did not demonstrate that an operator was competent on the delivery of specific loads and materials.

Among the changes to the certification requirements, the revised rule changes a 2010 requirement that crane operator certification must specify the rated lifting capacity of cranes for which the operator is certified. OSHA determined that the capacity requirement is not necessary to protect workers. Compliance certifications that were already issued by type and capacity are still accepted by OSHA.

There are also new requirements for employers to provide ongoing training and verification of operators. Those new requirements took effect on Feb. 9.

The training and verification requirements focus particularly on ensuring that operators are trained and evaluated on the specific type, make, and model of crane, and specific tasks to be undertaken on the job. That means OSHA is particularly interested in the type of materials being hoisted and the amount of materials being hosted.

Emphasizing training and verification acknowledges that employers are in the best position to evaluate an operator’s competency. Operator training and verification must be conducted by a person who has the knowledge, training, and experience necessary to assess operators. Employers have some flexibility in determining the level of knowledge and experience that the trainer must possess based on the skill level of the operator-in-training and the nature of the activity performed.

Once an operator has passed an evaluation on one piece of equipment, the employer may allow that operator to operate different equipment without further evaluation if the employer can demonstrate that operating that equipment would not require substantially different skills, knowledge, or ability to recognize and avert risk.

OSHA states that any evaluation must be  documented and provide the operator’s name, the evaluator’s name and signature, the date of the evaluation, and the make, model, and configuration of equipment used in the evaluation. In addition, the employer must be able to make the documentation of the evaluation available on the worksite for as long as the operator is employed. Finally, in instances where an employer observes an employee operating a crane unsafely, the employer must retrain and re-evaluate that individual on the specific task that was performed in an unsafe manner.

NLBMDA has long engaged OSHA on the crane rule and the association was instrumental in having the material delivery exemption included as part of the rule when it took effect in 2010. More recently, NLBMDA submitted comments to OSHA as part of its proposal updating compliance requirements for the crane rule.

For dealers operating in one of 22 states that administer programs covering safety and health programs for private sector employees—rather than federal OSHA—it is important to check with the state agency to determine if they have adopted the federal rules or whether they have gone beyond them. Remember that state standards must be as stringent as the federal rules but can also be more stringent.

It is important to note that the updates assume employers already provide training and evaluation for their crane operators. Even for companies covered by the material delivery exemption, training and verification is an important part of determining operator competency.

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