OSHA Crane Standard Final Rule
(29 CFR 1926.1427(k))

Written By: Bart Briggs, CSP, CSM, WSO-CSM

The OSHA Crane Standard Final Rule, that went into effect November 10, 2018, has several changes that affect most construction crane operations. It is important to note the two exemptions provided by OSHA thus far are for derricks, side-boom cranes, and cranes that have less than 2,000 pounds of lifting capacity. Employers of affected operators employed before December 10, 2018 may rely on previously conducted assessments of operator skill in lieu of conducting a new evaluation. OSHA’s new operators assessment criteria and process is effective February 7, 2019, after which operators must be evaluated according to the new specified criteria.

Standard changes that went in to effect on Nov. 10th, 2018 require adherence to one of four specific qualification processes for crane operators:

  1. Certification through a third party
  2. Employer Independently audited program
  3. Qualifications issued by the U.S. Military
  4. Compliance with State or local licensing requirements (mandatory when applicable)

OSHA predicts that certification through third-parties will be the most commonly used method of operator assessment in the future. Regardless of the method chosen, operator qualification credentials must be readily available for inspection on the jobsite and must include the specific equipment qualified to operate and lifting capacity. It should be noted that qualifications without the above information will not be considered valid after February 7, 2019.

Option 1: Certification by an Independent Testing Organization

This is the only option that is transferrable with the operator and the employer does not have a duty to validate compliance with the standard. A nationally recognized testing organization must conduct or oversee the training, testing & evaluation in order to certify an operator. To be considered a nationally-recognized certifying organization, an agency must possess industry-recognized criteria for written testing material, practical examinations, test administration, grading, appropriate facilities and relevant equipment, and experienced crane personnel. Testing must include written and practical examinations that:

  1. Assess the operator’s knowledge and skills regarding subjects specified in the crane standard
  2. Provide levels of certification based on equipment capacity, configuration, and type
  3. Have procedures to retest applicants who are initially unsuccessful
  4. Provide for recertification procedures

An operator may be deemed qualified to operate a particular piece of equipment only if the operator is certified for that type and capacity of equipment or for higher-capacity equipment of the same type. Certifications can be valid for no longer than five years from the testing date. OSHA anticipates two types of testing methods will be provided:

  1. New Operator (first certification)
    1. Expected to cost more
    2. Covers basic crane operations
  2. Additional Equipment credentialing
    1. Expected to be more economical
    2. Focuses primarily on additional material

Option 2: Employer’s Independently Audited Program

This option is intended to allow employers with robust training capacities the ability to be responsible for their own training, retraining, auditing, and operator competency. Employers who take this route must complete and document a thorough operator evaluation process.  Documentation must include the operator’s name, evaluator’s name and signature, evaluation date, and make, model, configuration, and capacity of equipment used in the evaluation. The employer is responsible to make this document available for inspection at the worksite while the operator is employed as a crane operator.


Employer-provided crane operator training must provide trainees with a combination of classroom and practical instruction. Written and practical tests must be developed by an accredited crane operator testing organization or approved by a third-party auditor. The operator trainee must be continuously monitored by the company trainer while conducting practical training maneuvers. Trainees are restricted from the following until certified:

  1. Operation within 20 feet of a power line <350 kV or within 50 feet of a power line that is > 350 kV
  2. Personnel lifts
  3. Multiple-crane lifts
  4. Over shafts, cofferdams, or storage tank farms
  5. Multiple-lift rigging operations


Certifying employers must provide documented retraining in relevant topics for each operator when, based on the performance of the operator or an evaluation of the operator’s knowledge, there is an indication that retraining is necessary. Retraining is required at least every five years.


The employer program must be audited by an approved auditor within 3 months of the beginning of the program and at least every 3 years thereafter. The employer’s program audits must be conducted by an accredited crane operator testing organization, or credentialed auditor, and cannot be an employee of the company.

  1. Deficiencies: the employer must ensure that:
    1. No operator is deemed qualified until the auditor confirms that deficiencies have been corrected
    2. The program must be re-audited within 180 days of confirmation that deficiencies are corrected
    3. Auditors must file documented deficiency reports to the appropriate Regional Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within 15 days of deficiency determinations

Generally, company program approval will likely be based on the auditor’s determination that written and practical instruction and testing meet nationally-recognized program development criteria, are repeatable, and reliable in assessing operator skills.  Employer audit records shall be maintained by the auditor for 3 years and must be made available to the Secretary of Labor or the Secretary’s designated representative upon request.

Option 3: Qualification by the U.S. military

OSHA recognizes the validity and completeness of U.S. military crane operator training and accepts such certifications from all branches, provided certification documentation can be completed accurately.

Option 4: Compliance with Qualifying State or Local Licensing

Some state or local governments may issue operator licenses for cranes that government meet the requirements specified in the standard. In this event, employers are required to ensure operators are appropriately licensed when working in such jurisdictions, regardless of operators being certified by nationally-accredited certification organizations. Conversely, state and local licensing will satisfy OHSA certification requirements, meaning operators with local government licenses (from a government licensing program congruent with requirements specified in the standard) would not be required to also obtain certification following the employer-audited program or via a nationally-accredited certification organization.


The future of crane operator training and certification will certainly change significantly after February 7, 2019. In our opinion, OSHA has taken great care in addressing as serious lapse in its regulatory work to date. Crane operators are responsible for large and complex duties in a myriad of workplaces and in our experience, many workplaces simply did not have competent operators in charge of lifting operations.  In an operation where a single error or miscalculation affects so many lives, it is a testament to the complexity of the subject that it has taken so long to get around to addressing this matter. For employers who simply want a certified operator, there is a path forward to accomplish that, albeit costlier. And for those who wish to handle these duties themselves, OSHA has provided a format for that as well. Once the fear and misunderstanding subsides, more competent and safe crane operators should become commonplace.



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