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Industry Protests OSHA's Stance on “Capacity” and “Qualification”

May 2013 - The discontent that has been brewing in the industry during the past several months over OSHA’s insistence that crane operators be certified according to the capacity of crane they test on came to a head last month as industry responded to the Agency’s invitation to air their views in a series of public meetings at the Department of Labor in Washington, DC (see OSHA Schedules Stakeholder Meetings to Discuss Crane Operator Requirements).

Speaker after speaker who participated in the three meetings, held April 2-3, testified to the belief that that certifying by capacity was neither meaningful nor useful and that, more importantly, it contributed nothing to crane safety. Contractors, crane rental, labor, manufacturers and the insurance industry were all well represented.

“Tonnage doesn’t imply greater skill; it’s the control system that determines skill,” said Randy Stemp of Lampson International, a sentiment that was echoed by Chip Pocock, representing the Associated General Contractors of America. “We certainly can’t support capacity banding, nor the disenfranchisement of crane operators,” he said. “‘Capacity’ has to be eliminated.”

Several former C-DAC members who wrote the original document that formed the basis of the rule claimed that it was never their intent to require certifying by capacity, and that OSHA had misinterpreted their language. “If capacity is so important, how come the other three options OSHA has identified as meeting crane operator qualification requirements don’t mention it?” said Robert Weiss, C-DAC member and President of Cranes, Inc.

The validity of what several participants referred to as “testing for testing’s sake” was also called into question. “If the tasks don’t differ according to size then you don’t need to test for them on the performance assessment,” said Larry Hopkins of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). “There needs to be a level of validity for each test. Where’s the study that says you need all these different tests?”

A similar consensus emerged when the debate turned to whether certification was equivalent to qualification, as OSHA has stated and which it inserted into the rule after all opportunities for public comment had passed. In other words, was there anything else an employer should have to do to qualify his operators other than certify them?

“You cannot possibly test on everything; we’d spend our lives testing,” said Mike Lenkin of Miller & Long. “Every piece of equipment is different; there are just too many types and sizes.”

No-one disputed the value of certification, said Boh Bros.’ J. Chris Ryan. The issue was, did that remove any further responsibility of the employer? “We have certified operators, but we take additional essential steps to qualify them,” Ryan said. “The employer has the responsibility to ensure operators are qualified.”

It was a position corroborated by one of the accrediting bodies present at the meeting. Dr. Roy Swift, of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was concerned about the effect that OSHA’s position would have on the exam “blueprint” developed by certification bodies. “If certification is the ‘be all and end all’ then the certification bodies would have to completely redo their Job Task Analyses, and they would have to look very different,” Swift said. “Certification alone cannot guarantee total competency.”

And at least one other federal agency agreed. “We need to have a two-step process,” stated the Corps of Engineers’ Ellen Stewart. “We need qualification steps on top of certification.”

See the Stakeholder Meeting Summary prepared by NCCCO.