ASSE Offers Crane Safety Information

U.S. statistics estimate that between 64 and 82 construction workers are killed and 263 injured each year working around cranes and derricks. American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) members note that crane accidents are more likely to cause injuries and/or death than most other types of equipment, according to statistics, and that comprehensive training programs for crane operators are a must when it comes to preventing fatalities and injuries.

An ASSE Professional Safety March 2008 Web article by ASSE member and certified crane operator, crane operator trainer, practical examiner and rigging trainer Greg Peters titled "Raising the Standard for Crane Safety" states: "A national crane operator certification requirement will certainly lead to safer crane operations. The first step is to ensure that operators are being properly trained before attempting to achieve certification.

Peters noted an exchange he recently had with a colleague. "You know, when my wife gets her nails done or hair cut, the individual providing the service has to hold a license. Yet, crane operators -- who have the ability to hoist thousands of pounds of equipment hundreds of feet in the air -- do not have to hold a recognized certification."

"In 2004, the Crane and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee (C-DAC) completed its draft proposal for a revised crane and derrick standard for construction. The draft was then submitted to OSHA," Peters wrote. "The draft standard would create a crane operator certification requirement at the federal level. To date, 14 states have enacted legislation to require operator certification, but federal OSHA regulations contain no such provision. The existing rule for cranes and derricks in construction, codified in 29 CFR Part 1926.550 (Subpart N), dates to 1971 and is based primarily on industry consensus standards published from 1967 through 1969."

Peters noted, "When it comes to crane accidents, the obvious question is why do these accidents occur. After an accident, if you speak with an operator, investigative/review team or any observer in an effort to understand what happened and why, you will often find that the incident could have been prevented. Why, then, do so many crane incidents continue to occur? You can cite the typical laundry list of causes -- complacency, pressure to get the job done, wrong equipment, etc. -- but in my experience, in most cases, the accident is a result of lack of training.

"Based on my experience, the crane operator certification requirement is much needed," Peters writes. "In my case, my employer had a solid training program in place. Yet, when the state of California enacted a certification requirement, the firm began to prepare operators for the certification exams and found several training gaps that needed to be addressed. It is important to understand the difference between training and certification. Certification is not what makes an operator safe. What makes an operator safe is the training received before achieving the certification."

The benefits of requiring certified operators go well beyond the level of competence in skill ability and knowledge, Peters wrote. For example, in some cases, a firm might qualify for general liability insurance premium discounts for having certified operators. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) offers crane operator certification.

The NCCCO certification process has been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. All mobile crane operators must take a core exam, which features 90 questions and must be completed within 90 minutes and depending on the type of crane for which certification is sought, the candidate must also pass a specialty exam. In addition to the written exam, each operator must demonstrate proficiency operating the corresponding crane type by taking a practical exam. Candidates have up to 12 months to complete both exams (which can be taken in any order). Once certification is achieved, it is effective for five years, as long as medical compliance is maintained.

Peters stated: "Today's cranes are engineered to achieve the maximum capacity to be lifted with the lightest amount of weight to be carried down a highway. As a result, the days of "running by the seat of your pants" -- that is, of floating an outrigger to determine how much something weighs -- are gone. If this technique were used on a modern-day crane, the crane would upset and crash well before the operator knew it was coming. To ensure safety, an operator must understand the load and the notes on it in order to correctly determine the crane's net capacity, and to determine whether the weight of the load is under the net capacity allowed. If these procedures are not understood or not performed correctly, the result can be catastrophic."

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