March 2007 - As the second anniversary of California’s crane operator certification requirement approaches, employer groups, unions and Cal-OSHA are assessing the impact of the most extensive regulation of this type in any state in the nation.
The revision to Section 5006.1 of California’s Title 8 was published mid-2003 after almost three years of industry debate through committee discussion led by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. It became effective June 1, 2005. With very few exceptions, operators of mobile cranes and tower cranes in the state must be certified by a certification entity accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The requirement applies to cranes in general industry as well as construction.
In testimony before the Cal-OSHA Standards Board last month, Graham Brent, Executive Director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO), noted that his organization had administered almost 60,000 written and practical mobile crane exams in the three-year period, 2004-2006. “Most candidates in California have taken the written core exam and one specialty exam,” said Brent, “and have gone on to take one practical exam” to achieve their certification. Most popular category by far, he said, had been the small, fixed cab telescopic boom crane type.
That testing activity had resulted in 7,350 certifications being issued between 2004 and 2006. Crane operators continued to complete the requirements for certification in the first quarter of 2007, he said, and this, together with candidates who entered the program prior to 2004, pushed the total number of CCO-certified operators in California to over 8,000, more than in any other state.
“To have reached that level in under two years is quite remarkable, and a credit to the vision and tenacity of Cal-OSHA officials and safety-minded employers across the state in bringing this requirement into law,” Brent said, noting that, realistically, a federal requirement was at least a half-dozen years away. While the vast majority of certifications had been in mobile cranes, tower crane certification had also proved extremely popular.
Initial Response Slow
However, it was by no means always clear that the state’s employers would respond in such numbers. Indeed, Brent noted that the industry had initially been slow to respond to the need to meet the new requirements. Of the approximately 150 written test administrations NCCCO scheduled in 2004, almost one-third had to be canceled due to no candidates registering for the examinations, he reminded the Board. “Compare that with the fact that, one year later, more than 850 test administrations were held, and a further 300 in 2006, and it’s clear that there has been an exponential growth in the rate of testing in the state,” he said.
Peak period for CCO testing had been the second quarter of 2005 as the June deadline loomed. “While the pace has slackened off since then,” Brent said, “both written and practical testing continues at a robust pace.” NCCCO is the largest certification body recognized by the state to issue crane operator certifications, and the only one testing both union and non-union operators. The nonprofit organization has been issuing certifications in California since 1997. CCO written examinations are administered under secure conditions by a chief examiner hired to proctor the exams. NCCCO chief examiners are independent from any of the individuals or companies being tested. This third-party test administration is an important element in maintaining the integrity of the program.
CCO practical examinations are administered by practical examiners trained and accredited by NCCCO. The accreditation requires that an examiner be a certified crane operator, successfully complete a three-day workshop to be trained in practical examination administration, and pass a written test at that workshop.
Practical Examiner Workshops
“We believe that three days is the absolute minimum needed to train a certified operator to administer practical exams,” said Workshop Senior Instructor and Manager of Program Development, Phillip Kinser. “Examiners need to know so much more than just the mechanics of ensuring a test site is set up correctly or how to fill out a candidate score sheet--as vitally important as these tasks are.” Equally critical, Kinser said, was an understanding of how the concepts of inter-rater reliability, and the validity and fairness of the test underpinned the integrity of the assessment process, as required under the terms of its accreditation by NCCA and, as applied for, by ANSI. “You just can’t do that in a one-day seminar,” he said.
There are currently over a hundred CCO-accredited practical examiners in California, Brent noted; more than 40 are “for hire”, that is they are available to be hired by employers to administer CCO practical exams. In addition, practical examiners from other states regularly provide practical examination services in the state. Since 2004, NCCCO has conducted more than a dozen Practical Examiner Accreditation Workshops in California, and more are planned.
Multiple options are available to candidates for testing. Written and practical examinations are offered on demand at NCCCO-approved sites that are hosted by employers, industry associations or training firms. In addition, employees may register for the practical examination at any one of eleven permanent practical exam sites now established in California; even where candidates may not have access through their employer, union or other organization at their place of employment, no candidate should be more than a short drive from a practical test site where tests are given on demand, by appointment.
Training firms across the state now offer a multitude of options for employers and candidates alike. In order to preserve its third-party independent status, NCCCO does not conduct any training itself. However, as a public service, it does list on its web site firms that have indicated they will provide training in preparation for CCO certification exams. While NCCCO offers no opinion on the quality or content of the programs offered, more than thirty firms active in California are currently listed.
In his concluding remarks to the Standards Board, Brent acknowledged that the past two years had been challenging, both for NCCCO and its test services contractor, International Assessment Institute (IAI), as they had responded to the unprecedented demand for certification testing from employers across California. “However, through the implementation of a number of measures, including in-house sponsored test administrations, expedited test site scheduling, and accelerated scoring procedures, we believe we have largely kept pace with this demand and resolved issues as they have arisen,” Brent said.
Employers could expect additional program improvements in the months to come, he added, that were aimed at streamlining the test delivery and reporting process. In development were online applications, computer-based testing and reduced paperwork requirements.
“We look forward to continued cooperation with Cal-OSHA, employers and industry organizations as we work towards bringing the remaining affected parties into compliance with the certification standard,” Brent added. Demand was also expected shortly, he said, from operators keen to take advantage of the recertification process for which they become eligible twelve months prior to their expiration date.