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New Crane Rules

Operator certification and design improvements bolster safety.



It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here: Early last November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, Washington) published a new rule in its Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926, Subpart CC) that significantly changed requirements for sign company operators. In the past, many sign companies conducted their daily operations without formal training programs for crane operators. Implementation of the new OSHA rule had been delayed several times, but is now firmly in effect.

According to Bryan Wilkerson, vice president of Wilkie Mfg. (Oklahoma City), whose firm manufactures cranes widely used in the industry, all equipment capable of lifting loads exceeding 2,000 lbs. – regardless of the weight of the specific load being lifted – is affected by the new rule. Operators of cranes having rated capacities of 2,001 pounds or higher must now be certified by a federally approved school, testing group or facility.

When OSHA published the original 2010 standard, and prior to its effective date, various stakeholders raised concerns about the previous requirement for operator certification to be based on the equipment’s rated lifting capacity. While this did not alter the 2,000-lb. threshold for operator certification, affected parties held that meeting a training requirement based on capacity would mandate substantial changes in their existing certification programs, but without yielding meaningful safety improvements.

In its recently published Final Rule, OSHA responded to these comments by allowing certification to be based either on equipment “type” or “type and capacity.” This altered language, in effect, eliminates the requirement for operator certification according to the crane’s maximum lifting capacity. It’s anticipated that this change will simplify the operator certification process and reduce the costs of compliance. 


The effective date of the Final Rule was Dec. 10, 2018. It specifies that employers must train operators as necessary to perform assigned crane work, evaluate their operators and document completion of these evaluations. Employers who had already performed operator evaluations prior to the effective date do not have to repeat them, but they must document when the evaluations were completed. This documentation must include

  • operator name
  • evaluator name and signature
  • date of evaluation
  • make, model and configuration of equipment used in the evaluation

The documentation requirements took effect on Feb. 7; employers must now keep evaluations on file for as long as the crane operator is employed. This requirement may also be satisfied by providing electronic access to these records.

Gabe Griffin, general manager of Clear Sign & Design Inc. in San Marcos, CA, said, “Obviously this is a sensitive topic for much of our industry. I have heard arguments against the initiative complaining of the cost and time investment alongside folks that end up losing staff soon after they pay for the certification. On the flip side, I have listened to others about the peace of mind they have knowing that their staff is working at the highest safety level.”


Wilkerson reported that one effect of the new rules has been greater focus by sign companies on smaller-sized cranes. Prior to publication of the new OSHA rule, many sign companies already preferred smaller cranes because they can be installed on trucks having Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR) below the threshold requiring drivers to maintain commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). Similarly, the current OSHA rule has heightened the appeal of cranes with capacity ratings below the lifting-weight capacity threshold for operator certification. 

Because many signs, poles and related equipment weigh less than 2,000 lbs., cranes rated below OSHA’s capacity threshold afford sign companies greater flexibility in scheduling employees engaged in field operations, because many smaller cranes do not require certification. In addition, sign companies are modifying their existing cranes to comply with the new rules for operators. For example, Thomas Vatter, vice president of sales and marketing at Elliott Equipment Co. (Omaha, NE), indicated that his firm works with existing customers to modify higher-capacity Elliott cranes, lowering their capacity ratings to a maximum of 1,950 lbs. Wilkerson also confirmed that any Wilkie crane can be re-rated below the 2,000-lb. threshold via user-installable kits that his firm provides. 

In the past, many sign company cranes were controllable strictly from below (i.e., the truck bed). Fixed personnel baskets with remote controls enable modern equipment to serve the functions of both a crane and an aerial/personnel lift. However, OSHA rules prohibit using a crane to hoist loads while workers occupy a personnel basket or platform. To address the needs of field workers for hoisting relatively lightweight items, crane manufacturers have equipped baskets with stowable jib cranes. This feature is useful for such common sign company operations as installing channel letters or smaller signfaces.

Concerning the impact of operator certification, Griffin said, “This is a no-brainer. I passed my exam about 11 years ago, as soon as the news hit. In hindsight, I still can’t imagine that our industry would allow young men and women behind the controls of equipment that’s not only expensive, but equipment that has such a high capacity to cause major issues on job sites.” 



Vatter points out that most crane accidents result from poor machine setup or inadequate lift planning, so it’s crucial for crane operators – whether certified or not – to determine in advance how they will position their equipment on the job site and to plan how signs will be moved and hoisted into position. 

Outriggers must always be deployed on firm ground to level and stabilize the truck bed prior to crane use. In some cases, placing shoring plates or timbers beneath the outrigger pads is necessary to expand the weight-bearing surface area or to protect paved surfaces from damage. Before the crane ever leaves your shop for the job site, the operator should also conduct an inspection to ensure the equipment is not damaged or malfunctioning. 

Crane manufacturers publish recommended maintenance guidelines for periodic lubrication and cable replacements, in addition to periodic equipment inspections. OSHA also requires crane owners to have instruction manuals available for all operating equipment. 

Additionally, today’s manufacturers equip cranes with various electronic and hydraulic devices that bolster safety by indicating approximate weights for loads being lifted and the corresponding load capacity at any given boom extension or angle. Cranes also may incorporate warning devices to caution operators when they are approaching the equipment’s rated capacity, thus protecting them from hazardous situations.

“There is no shortage of YouTube footage showing crane operators touching power lines, causing structure damage, and much worse,” Griffin said. “I am in favor of [operator certification], and have seen the benefits first hand. Putting the numbers and burden aside, looking at this from the simplest perspective, I think we can all agree there is nothing more important than our staffs’ safety, engagement, and their ability to make it home for dinner each night.”




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