Understand the importance of operator training & continued education
by Kathy Wells
September 7, 2017

According to the 2016 Travelers Business Risk Index, construction professionals believe they are more at risk of something bad happening to their businesses than their counterparts in other industries. Sixty-two percent of construction professionals said their greatest concern is the changing workforce.

With this in mind, CBO spoke with Hank Dutton, a senior technical specialist for construction risk control at Travelers Construction, about what construction firms can do to ensure both experienced and new employees learn how to safely operate one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment on the worksite: a crane.

CBO: How are new technologies changing crane safety?
HD: The internet of things (IoT) and smart sensor technology are allowing for more accurate readings and real-time feedback during crane operations, which can enhance on-site safety. But while these technologies bring benefits, they also can pose significant risks.

For example, one risk is an overreliance on technology without fully understanding its limitations. No matter how sophisticated the technology becomes, crane operators still need to understand how to safely operate a crane and how to properly use the technology.

As technology evolves, it will become increasingly important for operators to receive in-depth, hands-on training. As Jay Strum, the president of Strum Corporation, said at CONEXPO this year, “A lot of failures are specifically tied to the training of the operator. That trumps the technology. The element of training is what is missing.”

CBO: What should a business look for in an outside training program?
HD: Two questions to keep in mind when vetting external training programs are:

  1. Will the programs prepare my employees for the job tasks they will be expected to perform?
  2. Will the programs help my company meet national safety standards and requirements?

While there are other factors to consider, such as time, cost and travel commitments, any program that meets those two requirements is worth exploring. Look for a course that fits your company’s needs and your employees’ learning styles. Instead of a course that focuses solely on test preparation, consider one that offers a well-rounded approach and also allows employees to practice scenarios they could experience in the field. The training curriculum should cover the various types of cranes, rules and regulations, maintenance and inspection methods, accident prevention tactics and best practices for safe operations. A key component of receiving effective training is tied to the quality of the instructor. Ideally, the trainer should learn about your company and the types of equipment you use first to best present the information in a way in which your employees can easily understand and relate.

CBO: Aside from operators, who should attend crane safety courses?
HD: Everyone involved in the different aspects of crane operations can benefit from attending crane safety training, whether they operate cranes or not. Some of the groups that we recommend attending crane safety training include crane operators, lift directors and management, such as foremen, superintendents, equipment managers, estimators, project managers and safety personnel. By training other members involved in crane operations, they are better prepared to act as a team and identify potential issues before they arise.

CBO: How can employees maintain their education after completing a safety course? How can employers monitor employee progress?
HD: Crane safety training shouldn’t end after employees attend a crane safety course. Once employees have received training and met certification requirements, it’s important to organize short refreshers as needed, especially as new equipment is added and technology continues to advance. Continuously observing employees to ensure they are following the safety standards taught during training should be part of the safety audit process implemented by your organization. Employees who are specifically trained in crane operations should be charged with educating others around them who also may be involved in crane operations. In addition, it is important for companies to measure success along the way by obtaining continuous feedback. You can start with an upfront benchmark, which will serve as a reference point against which to track results. Once you have created a benchmark, establish a system that encourages and collects employee feedback, allowing you to make quick adjustments as needed. If an accident occurs, take the time to analyze the cause and fix any safety issues. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your successes along the way in order to foster a culture that rewards safety.

CBO: What are some best practices for creating internal safety training?
HD: Before creating your own safety program, review federal and state requirements, OSHA standards pertinent to the topic and other industry guidelines. Then, tailor the material to your specific work environment.

Courses may consist of test preparation, an overview of the different types of cranes and equipment, machine maintenance, accident prevention, proper communication and hands-on application.

There are a few best practices we recommend when businesses create their own training programs.

First, evaluate how much of an emphasis your business puts on workplace safety. This evaluation may include analyzing past safety incidents, interviewing employees at every level and observing workplace interactions. An important element in building a strong safety culture is providing educational resources and instructional events for employees.

Once you have identified the weak spots, regular internal safety training becomes a great platform for communicating change.

Any crane safety courses created in-house to help prepare employees for certification must be approved by a third-party auditor that is certified by an accredited crane operator testing organization. The program must be audited within 3 months of starting and at least every 3 years thereafter.

CBO: What else should employers know about crane safety courses?
HD: Having your employees attend safety courses and becoming certified is not a replacement for a company safety program, but, rather, should be components of your program. It comes down to building a culture in which safety is integrated into every aspect of the business.

CBO: What are some resources for finding crane safety courses in your region?
HD: If your company is without a crane safety course of its own, or you want to investigate other alternatives, a good place to start is with your insurer or insurance agent. Some providers offer their clients complementary training courses. Travelers offers customers a crane safety training program, which covers things like rules and regulations, crane types, conditions affecting operations, site review and setup, site operations, maintenance, inspection, load charts and more. The program includes eight modules, which are presented over 4 1/2 days, and is designed to increase crane safety awareness and help prepare candidates for the written exams offered by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). Another option is using fee-for-service training providers. However, you should thoroughly review their offers and pricing since the employer is legally obligated to cover the cost, according to OSHA standards. While there is not one, all-inclusive list of crane training service providers available, NCCCO does have a list of training providers listed by state for companies that have indicated they offer preparatory training for certification exams. Neither NCCCO nor OSHA endorse any specific course, so you should thoroughly investigate the training provider before committing your time and money.