Learning to Lift
Crane Operator Certification Leads to Safer Lifting Operations
Graham Brent Jul 01, 2010
ince wind farms are typically built on a grand scale, everything is bigger than on a normal construction site. Cranes are therefore essential tools for assembling the huge pieces that make up the giant wind-powered generators and associated infrastructure. Not only are the pieces big and bulky, but often they must be lifted hundreds of feet in the air. All of this can add up to a safety nightmare, so qualified crane operators, riggers and signalpersons are essential parts of the wind farm construction team.
The inherent hazards that come with lifting operations, particularly with the large-scale lifts required to assemble wind farms, mean that everyone — employers, operators, jobsite personnel and the general public — has much to gain from ensuring that only qualified people operate cranes, rig loads and signal the crane operator. Accidents on the construction site have many costs — death or serious injury, property damage, lost time and litigation, for starters. Over the past 40 years, standardized assessment and certification of the skills and knowledge required for safe crane operation has repeatedly proven to improve safety.
Working with industry representatives and other key stakeholders over the past 15 years, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) has developed and administers a series of nationally accredited written and practical exams, leading to the certification of crane operators and related craftspeople as skilled and safe practitioners of their trades. By providing a thorough, independent assessment of the required knowledge and skills, NCCCO certification programs have helped enhance lifting equipment safety, reduce workplace risk, improve performance records, stimulate training and give due recognition to the professional skills required for safe crane operations.
Training and Certification
Certification is generally considered to be the final link in a process designed to educate people in the correct way to operate cranes. Well-trained operators — with independently verified knowledge and skills — make fewer mistakes and therefore have fewer accidents than those with less or inferior knowledge.
While certification generally involves some form of testing, not all testing qualifies as certification. And even though training is essential to a valid certification process, care must be taken to ensure that the two functions remain separate. An improperly developed certification program may be worse than no certification at all because it could create a false sense of security among both those who have certification and those who rely on it for hiring purposes.
Further, certification requirements must be rigorous and designed to give assurance that the tests are fair, sound and valid assessments of the knowledge and skills they are intended to measure. CCO certification provides an objective means of verifying that training has been effective — and that learning has in fact taken place. Only third-party, independent certification can do this, and then only if it has been validated by the industry and recognized as psychometrically sound by certification specialists.
NCCCO programs meet all these criteria, as indicated by their accreditation by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
According to NCCCO president John M. Kennedy, “ANSI represents the gold standard of accrediting organizations, so candidates and employers alike can be assured that, with ANSI’s independent verification of NCCCO’s policies and procedures, CCO certifications meet the highest professional standards of examination development and administration.”
While factors such as experience clearly have their place in defining an operator’s proficiency, reports from employers, test site coordinators and training professionals around the country indicate that candidates who test with the benefit of structured, professional training have a much greater chance of success than those who do not receive formal training.
NCCCO does not offer training so as not to compromise its objective measurement of a candidate’s knowledge and skills. Nor is NCCCO in a position to approve or endorse any training firm or program because that would require a review procedure outside of NCCCO’s mandate.
Nevertheless, NCCCO recognizes the critical part that training plays in elevating operator proficiency and works with many firms, organizations and individuals who are actively training operators, riggers and signalpersons in the knowledge and skills necessary for safe crane operation.
Employers often ask, “What areas do candidates fail on the most?” Knowledgeable crane experts all agree — there is no more abused, misunderstood or just plain ignored aspect of safe crane operations than the crane’s load chart.
NCCCO can testify to this based on its experience of administering more than 300,000 written tests. And yet, without a thorough understanding of a crane’s load chart, an operator cannot have an accurate picture of either its capabilities or its limitations.
In any case, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) crane standards require operators to “demonstrate their ability to read, write, comprehend and exhibit arithmetic skills and load/capacity chart usage.” And they must do so without the use of calculators and “in the language of the crane manufacturer’s operation and maintenance materials.” Foolhardy, indeed, is the operator who ignores load charts for today’s high-tech, versatile machines — equally so, the candidate aspiring to become CCO certified.
Strengthening Jobsite Safety
The decision on whether or not to train employees is one that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), industry standards and just plain good sense has already made for employers. Trained employees are safer employees. Further, in many areas, crane operator certification has become mandatory.
Clearly, reducing accidents is the primary goal, and there is clear evidence that certification can help achieve this. The Province of Ontario instituted a certification program in 1979 that resulted in more thorough training of crane operators to meet certification requirements and has seen a significantly lower accident rate, despite the recent explosion in crane usage. With the publication last year of a six-year study of crane-related injuries and fatalities by Cal-OSHA, it’s clear that a similar pattern is now emerging in the United States.
Over the past 15 years, NCCCO has evolved from a need identified by the industry into a robust organization
addressing the assessment requirements of all types of crane operators and related trades. From its foundation certifying mobile crane operators, NCCCO has since developed additional CCO certification programs covering tower crane operators, overhead crane operators, articulating crane operators, riggers and signalpersons. Now everyone on the jobsite is reading off the same page and knows what to
expect from each other.
In essence, NCCCO programs have been developed by the industry for the industry and continue to be supported by it. NCCCO’s commissioners, board of directors and committee volunteers represent diverse industry groups such as contractors, rental firms, owners, unions, government, regulatory and standards-setting agencies, steel erectors, energy, manufacturers, equipment distributors, construction firms, training consultants and insurance companies. The wealth of knowledge these experts have brought to this effort has been coupled with the psychometric expertise of one of the nation’s most prestigious credentialing organizations, the International Assessment Institute (IAI). IAI continues to play a crucial role in the development of NCCCO programs and assists in the administration of CCO written and practical examinations.
This combination of crane-related experience and exam-development knowledge has been supplemented with input from OSHA, as well as the ANSI and ASME committees that develop and revise the standards related to operating in and around cranes. The result has been sound, valid and effective tests of proficiency.
NCCCO offers nationally accredited certification programs, requiring both written and practical exams, for the following crane-related job functions:
- Mobile Crane Operators — for those who operate lattice boom or telescopic boom mobile cranes.
- Tower Crane Operators — for those who operate hammerhead, luffing jib or self-erecting tower cranes.
- Overhead Crane Operators — for those who operate overhead bridge or gantry cranes.
- Articulating Crane Operators — for those who operate articulating boom cranes or loaders (also known as “material loaders” or “wallboard cranes”).
- Riggers — for those who prepare loads for safe lifting.
- Signalpersons — for those who direct the crane operator during a lift.
An excellent place to get started in the training process is the NCCCO Candidate Handbook for the appropriate crane type or job function. These handbooks clearly lay out the content of the examinations and are available as free downloads from the NCCCO website (www.nccco.org).
All the knowledge areas identified by subject matter experts and validated through operator surveys as being
critical to safe crane operations (i.e., the minimum a candidate needs to know to perform his or her job safely) are specified in the appropriate candidate handbooks, along with a list of reference materials that candidates should be familiar with. These publications, including the required OSHA and ASME standards, are used to develop test questions and together they provide all the study material required to pass the tests.
Graham Brent is the executive director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), based in Fairfax, Va.
About NCCCOThe National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) is a nonprofit industry organization formed in 1995 to develop effective performance standards for safe crane operation to assist all segments of construction and general industry. Since NCCCO began testing in 1996, more than 500,000 written and practical exams have been administered to over 78,000 crane operators in all 50 states. Over three-fourths of the states that have requirements for crane operators require or recognize NCCCO certification.
NCCCO’s certification programs are unique in that they:
- Are administered on a standardized, secure, nationwide basis.
- Actively encourage training, yet are separate from it.
- Verify that training has been effective.
- Were developed in a non-regulatory environment.
- Are modeled on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Mechanical
- Engineers (ASME) consensus guidelines.
- Meet recognized professional credentialing criteria.
- Have participation from all industry sectors.
- Are officially recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Are accredited by independent accrediting bodies, such as the ANSI and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
- Are psychometrically sound and validated through peer review.
- NCCCO programs are accredited by rigorous national personnel certification accreditation bodies, including the ANSI; these accreditations indicate that NCCCO’s nationally recognized and administered programs deliver what they promise.
NCCCO certification has been nationally accredited by the NCCA since 1998 and the ANSI since 2007. NCCCO crane operator certification programs are the only programs to have earned both of these accreditations, as well as formal recognition by federal OSHA as meeting OSHA and ASME requirements for crane operator competency. To learn more about how NCCCO certification programs work, visit www.nccco.org or call (703) 560-2391.