Under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's current rules for cranes in construction, candidates seeking operator certification must be tested on the type and capacity of crane they will operate. However, implementation of a capacity requirement is controversial in the crane world, and OSHA's final determination on this issue could have major implications for the entire construction industry.

In July 2003, OSHA convened the Cranes and Derricks Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee (C-DAC); I was honored to be a member. This panel of 23 industry professionals was tasked with rewriting the federal government's antiquated safety standards for cranes, and one of our major objectives was to raise the level of operator competency in America.

At that time, the only accredited and OSHA-recognized certification body for crane operators in the U.S. was the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). As such, we carefully studied its testing scheme when writing the new rule.

NCCCO certified operators on the basis of crane type, but it also had a separate test for telescopic-boom cranes below 17.5 tons. Capacity was immaterial, though; the two telescopic tests simply represented the break point between fixed-cab and swing-cab machines in the country's crane fleet.

However, to ensure that C-DAC was in sync with NCCCO's tests, we included the word "capacity" in the standard, stating that an accredited testing organization must "provide different levels of certification based on equipment capacity and type."

Some people may argue that if 23 industry experts included a capacity requirement in the draft rule, they must have felt it was important. As a C-DAC member, I can assure you that this was not the case. Our frame of reference was existing operator certification programs, and there were none that effectively took capacity into account—including Ontario's highly touted and successful program.

It is worth noting that certification by an accredited testing organization is the only one of the four options for operator qualification in the OSHA rule that has a capacity requirement. The other three call for testing only by crane type. Isn't this indicative of C-DAC's intent that capacity was irrelevant? We never envisioned testing operators on the capacity of a crane.

There has been a suggestion that testing by boom length is a solution to this problem. Although it may have some relevance in assessing an operator's skills, it does not equate to testing by capacity. To say that bigger cranes have longer booms is erroneous: In many all-terrain cranes, the larger capacity machines often have shorter booms to enable a better load chart.