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2012

Cranes Are Safer, But More Training Needed

Nation's most experienced operators passionate about their industry

April 2012 - The construction industry is a better place to work than it was a generation ago, with greater emphasis on crane safety, improved operator aids in cranes, and more available training. But there is still room for further improvement. That’s according to a survey conducted by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) of some of the most experienced—and qualified—crane operators in the United States.

NCCCO polled several hundred CCO-certified operators who had been recertified three times—each averaging over 30 years’ experience, with at least 15 of those years certified—to find out what they saw as the most significant changes in the industry since they stepped up into the operator’s seat. They were also asked what safety lessons they would pass along to less-experienced operators.

When asked for the biggest change in the industry they’d seen over their careers, the most common responses reflected an improved concern for safety. “Safety used to be an afterthought,” said one respondent. “Now it is the most important aspect of any construction project.”

Cranes are operated differently, too. “When I started we learned by the seat of our pants,” said one operator, noting the shift away from friction cranes to hydraulics and increased lifting capacity with lower overall crane weight. “Now with heavier lifts and lighter cranes, you must learn the specifics for each crane.”

Many respondents also mentioned that the widespread addition of computers, electronics, and operator aids had greatly improved crane safety, although many cautioned that an over-reliance on operator aids could lead to complacency. Equipment is in better shape, too. “I have seen a big difference in repairs, because once it’s written down it has to be repaired in a timely manner,” said one veteran operator.

Lack of training and/or experience was the leading factor cited as the cause of accidents and near misses. Others felt that time pressure, inattention to ground conditions, improper cribbing, and a lack of planning by management also contributed to a significant number of incidents.

As to what still needs to be done to make the industry safer, the overwhelming response was “more training,” with many noting that everyone on the job site—not just operators—also needs to understand cranes better. And, while most approved of the new certification requirements for operators, they also felt that the existing rules need to be enforced better.

Many appreciated that the new rules clarified the responsibility of management. “They should make operators and contractors work together better to keep lifting safe because everyone is more accountable,” was one comment. And there had been development in this area also. “Management seems to be more interested now in how the operator wants to make the lifts,” said one respondent.

When asked what advice they would give to crane operators just starting out, most responses broke down along the lines of “get all the training you can get,” “find an experienced mentor,” and “remember safety first.” Others gave warnings such as, “Don’t ever let time pressure, peer pressure, distractions, or employer pressure compromise operating cranes safely.” In short, they encouraged new operators to know their limits and not be afraid to ask more experienced operators.

Many of these veterans were following a family tradition when they stepped up into the cab of a crane for the first time, but some had an even greater calling. “The idea of building things that will outlast me and benefit society along the way gives me a sense of accomplishment and great personal reward,” said one operator with more than four decades in the seat.

All were in agreement, however, when it came to what they would still like to see more of. It seems that wages and benefits still seem to have some way to go before they catch up with some of the other improvements in working conditions seen by these veteran crane operators over their careers.

View the complete survey results in the NCCCO report Three Decades of Experience: An NCCCO Survey of Three-Time Recertificants