National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators
|Key people||Thom Sicklesteel, president|
|Focus(es)||Crane operators, digger derrick operators, riggers, signalpersons, crane inspectors, lift directors|
|Method(s)||Certification, Industry standards, Publications|
The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) is a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization in the United States that develops and administers nationally accredited, third-party professional certification programs for crane and digger derrick operators, riggers, signalpersons, crane inspectors, and lift directors.
Established in January 1995, the NCCCO's primary goal is to improve the safety of cranes and lifting operations. Since April 1996, NCCCO has produced and administered written and practical exams leading to certification of crane operators and related craftspeople as skilled and safe practitioners of their trades. More than 800,000 written and practical exams have been administered to over 170,000 crane operators in all 50 U.S. states. By providing a thorough, independent assessment of the knowledge and skills required to work safely, NCCCO certification programs have sought to enhance lifting equipment safety, reduce workplace risk, improve performance records, stimulate training, and give due recognition to the professional skills required for safe crane operations.
NCCCO's mission is to develop effective performance standards for those who work in and around cranes; to provide fair, valid, and reliable assessments of knowledge and skill; and to serve as an authoritative industry resource of relevant information. NCCCO currently offers nationally accredited certifications for operators of mobile, tower, overhead, articulating, and service truck cranes, digger derricks, and related trades, including riggers, signalpersons, crane inspectors, and lift directors.
- 1 Fulfilling OSHA Personnel Qualification Requirements
- 2 CCO Certification Options
- 3 History
- 4 The Importance of Certification
- 5 Training Policy
- 6 Nationally Accredited Personnel Certifications
- 7 Crane Operator Testing in Practice
- 8 Sample NCCCO Practical Exam Tasks
- 9 Test Site Design
- 10 Official Recognition and Cooperative Agreements
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Fulfilling OSHA Personnel Qualification Requirements
NCCCO crane operator certification has been officially recognized by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as meeting OSHA requirements for crane operator safety since 1999. All CCO certifications also meet the personnel qualification requirements set forth by federal OSHA’s new rule for cranes and derricks used in construction (29 CFR 1926, Subpart CC), which became effective November 8, 2010. Under the new rule, which updated crane standards originating in the 1960s, crane operators must be either certified by an accredited crane operator testing organization such as NCCCO or qualified by an audited employer program; signalpersons must be qualified either by a third-party qualified evaluator, such as NCCCO, or an employer’s qualified evaluator; and riggers must be qualified. The appropriate NCCCO certifications are evidence of qualification for all of these job responsibilities.
The qualification requirements for signalpersons and riggers became effective with the rest of the rule on November 8, 2010, but employers are given an additional four years to comply with the crane operator certification provisions. Serving in its role as an industry resource, NCCCO has been working closely with OSHA to help employers understand the new personnel qualification requirements under the rule.
CCO Certification Options
NCCCO currently offers nationally accredited certification programs, requiring both written and practical exams, for the following crane-related job functions:
- Mobile Crane Operators—for those who operate lattice boom, telescopic boom, or service truck mobile cranes
- Tower Crane Operators—for those who operate hammerhead, luffing jib, or self-erecting tower cranes
- Overhead Crane Operators—for those who operate overhead or bridge or gantry cranes
- Articulating Crane Operators—for those who operate articulating boom cranes or loaders (also known as "material loaders" or "wallboard cranes")
- Digger Derrick Operators—for those who operate digger derricks, which are specialized pieces of equipment used to dig holes and set poles, such as for utility lines or signs
- Signalpersons—for those who direct the crane operator during a lift
- Riggers—for those who prepare loads for safe lifting; Rigger Level I certification indicates that certificants are considered qualified for most rigging work, while Rigger Level II certification shows that they can rig non-routine jobs that require independent thinking without supervision
- Crane Inspectors—for those who inspect cranes and verify that they are safe to operate
- Lift Directors—for those who direct complex lifts with one or more cranes to ensure operations run safely
NCCCO was formed in January 1995 as a non-profit organization to develop effective performance standards for safe crane operation to assist all segments of general industry and construction. Its formation was largely in response to high-profile, deadly crane accidents in California (a crane accident killed five in San Francisco's Financial District in November 1989 and another crane accident killed one and caused a fire at Edwards Air Force Base in September 1990) and in Washington state (a July 1994 crane accident at the Kingdome in Seattle killed two and injured one).
NCCCO was established through an initiative by the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) that represented the culmination of almost 10 years’ continuous work by representatives of all industries that use cranes. In essence, the CCO programs have been developed by industry for industry and continue to be supported by it. NCCCO’s Commissioners and Board of Directors represent diverse industry groups such as contractors, rental firms, owners, unions, government, regulatory and standards-setting agencies, steel erectors, petrochemicals, energy, automotive, manufacturers, equipment distributors, construction firms, training consultants, and insurance companies.
The thousands of years of collective crane knowledge brought by NCCCO volunteers has been coupled with the psychometric expertise of International Assessment Institute (IAI). IAI played a crucial role in the development of the CCO programs and continues to assist in the administration and further development of CCO written and practical examinations. This combination of crane-related expertise and exam-development knowledge has been supplemented with input from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), as well as the ANSI/ASME committees that developed and revise standards related to cranes. Combining all of these resources has produced tests of crane operator proficiency that have proven to be fair, valid, effective, and legally defensible. A key factor in OSHA's decision to recognize the CCO program is that it provides an objective and independent assessment of the skills and knowledge of crane operators.
The Importance of Certification
In addition to being required by OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC, crane operator certification has repeatedly been shown to improve crane safety. According to a study conducted by Cal-OSHA, in a three-year window between June 1, 2005 and May 31, 2008, crane-related fatalities dropped 80 percent; this decrease occurred after the State of California adopted the NCCCO crane operator certification program as a requirement for all mobile crane operators. The Canadian province of Ontario instituted a certification program in 1979 that has apparently resulted in fewer crane-related accidents and injuries in the construction industry; from 1978, the year in which the certification program went into effect, to 1995, the construction crane fatality rate decreased from 3.59 per year to 1.40 per year, providing some evidence that certification helps prevent catastrophic accidents.
NCCCO certification is designed to provide an employer, or a contractor considering the use of hired-in crane services, with a baseline evaluation of an operator’s practical operating ability. In this way, any time an operator presents a valid CCO certification card, the employer can be assured that the holder of the card has demonstrated competency for crane operation according to established written, practical, and medical criteria.
Certification is generally considered to be the final link in a process designed to educate people in the correct way to operate cranes. Well-trained crane operators and related tradespeople—with independently verified knowledge and skills—make fewer mistakes and, therefore, have fewer accidents than those with less or inferior knowledge. While certification generally involves some form of testing, not all testing qualifies as certification. And, even though training is essential to a valid certification process, care must be taken to ensure the two functions remain separate. An improperly developed certification program may be worse than no certification at all because it could create a false sense of security among both those who have certification and those who rely on it for hiring purposes.
Key distinguishing features of NCCCO’s certification programs are that they:
- Actively encourage training, yet are separate from it
- Verify that training has been effective
- Were developed by industry in a non-regulatory environment
- Are modeled on ANSI/ASME consensus guidelines
- Are psychometrically sound and meet recognized professional credentialing criteria
- Have participation from all industry sectors
- Are officially recognized by federal OSHA as meeting crane operator qualifications
- Are accredited by independent accrediting bodies (ANSI and NCCA)
- Are the result of a joint labor/management initiative
- Have been validated through peer review
- Are administered on a standardized, secure, nationwide basis.
NCCCO does not offer training so as not to compromise its objective measurement of a candidate's knowledge and skills. Nor is NCCCO in a position to approve or endorse any training firm or program because that would require a review procedure outside NCCCO's mandate. Nevertheless, recognizing the critical role that training plays in certification's role of elevating operator proficiency, NCCCO works with hundreds of firms, organizations, and individuals that have endorsed the CCO–certification program and who are actively training operators in the knowledge and skills necessary for safe crane operation and that will be tested through CCO certification examinations.
Nationally Accredited Personnel Certifications
All NCCCO programs are accredited to rigorous international standards by personnel certification accreditation bodies such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCCO certification has been nationally accredited by NCCA since 1998 and ANSI since 2007. With ANSI's accreditation, NCCCO’s nationally recognized and administered programs are in compliance with ISO/IEC 17024, the international standard for organizations responsible for the certification of personnel. The NCCCO crane operator certification program is the only program to have earned both of these accreditations as well as formal recognition by federal OSHA as meeting OSHA and ASME (ANSI) requirements for crane operator competency.
Further, accreditation requirements must be rigorous and designed to give assurance that the tests are a fair, sound, and valid assessment of the knowledge and skills they are intended to measure. CCO certification provides an objective means of verifying that training has been effective—and that learning has, in fact, taken place. Only third-party, independent certification can do this, and then only if it has been validated by industry and recognized as psychometrically sound by certification specialists. NCCCO programs meet all these criteria.
Crane Operator Testing in Practice
In most CCO programs, certificants must demonstrate their competency by passing a written examination and a practical exam, and they must meet specific medical requirements. Exceptions are the CCO crane inspector and lift director certifications, which do not require a practical exam. The NCCCO mobile crane operator practical exam that was implemented in 1999 has since provided a model for CCO certifications for other types of operators. NCCCO's wide range of certification programs ensures that everyone whose job puts them in contact with cranes and lifting equipment has a similar knowledge base, thereby facilitating jobsite communications and ensuring safe lifting practices.
Practical, hands-on examinations were part of the original blueprint of the NCCCO national crane operator certification program from the outset; the ANSI/ASME B30.5 mobile crane standard requires it, and its incorporation by OSHA’s 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC adds the full weight of law. NCCCO’s original job analysis also confirmed that a practical test would be an essential part of the certification process.
NCCCO’s philosophy in the development of practical exams as a critical third component in its national certification program is simple: whatever knowledge that could be tested through the written exam should be tested that way. Only those skills that do not lend themselves to examination through a paper-and-pencil exercise should be evaluated through a hands-on test.
As with the written exams, all aspects of the practical exams follow established psychometric standards and, to ensure this, NCCCO secured the services of professional exam development specialists to help determine which tasks should be included, the test site design, crane parameters, scoring criteria, and the selection and assessment criteria for examiners who would ultimately administer the practical exam.
Sample NCCCO Practical Exam Tasks
The mobile crane operator practical exams comprise four main tasks that test essential skills for crane operators, namely: hoisting, booming, swinging, following hand signals, and combination (multi-function) operations. Operation is required with load and without load. A candidate may lose points through performance errors and/or exceeding the optimum time allotted.
Candidates for mobile crane operator certification must perform each of the following four main tasks to an acceptable standard:
- Task 1: Placing the Ball—The candidate must swing the crane in order to bring the overhaul (headache) ball from a testing point to a target point.
- Task 2: Hand Signals—The candidate must respond to the examiner’s standard method hand signals
- Task 3: Ball in Barrel—The candidate must place the overhaul ball into each of two barrels in turn without overturning the drums.
- Task 4: Zigzag Corridor—The candidate must lift a load of predetermined size and weight into the air and swing, boom up/down, hoist up/down as he/she judges necessary to guide the load through a Zigzag Corridor without leaving the corridor. The candidate enters the corridor with the load at the farthest point from the crane and guides it through the corridor to the point nearest the crane. The candidate then retraces his/her steps in reverse.
The practical exams for other types of crane operators and job functions are based on a similar structure, with the tasks becoming progressively more difficult during the exam.
Test Site Design
Since NCCCO practical exams are given at various employer, union, and other sites across the country, it is critical that the test sites accommodate different sizes, makes, and models of equipment, and that similar testing conditions “level the playing field” for candidates. To that end, the generic site design established by NCCCO’s Practical Exam Management Committee is tailored by NCCCO for each test administration, taking into account differences in crane types. Precise instructions on where to position the crane and how to lay out the site are provided to each test site coordinator and practical examiner for each test, along with CAD drawings.
In this way, candidates are assured of fair, standardized, and “equivalent” tests, even though they may be examined on different cranes within testing categories. A similar process has been established for the configuration of the cranes (boom length, test load weight, etc.).
Recognizing that evaluation of candidates on a practical exam might be subject to the bias of the examiner, NCCCO has developed a four-part program designed to remove any subjectivity, as far as possible, whereby:
- Practical examiners record the performance of the candidates, rather than evaluate them.
- Scoring is done off site; candidates are informed of their results by mail.
- Practical examiners must be trained and accredited by NCCCO before being approved to conduct examinations.
- Practical examiners’ records, as well as practical test sites, are subject to routine audits for fairness.
According to J. Chris Ryan, chairman of NCCCO’s Practical Exam Management Committee, a large part of the initial mobile crane operator exam’s two-year development period was devoted to designing this bias-free system. “For a hands-on test to be fair and objective on a wide variety of equipment at different locations around the country, it was essential to remove, as far as possible, all subjectivity by the examiner,” he says. Standardization of the various tasks had also been a major challenge; one that has been overcome through diligent attention to crane and test site set-up procedures. Key to the effectiveness of this strategy was the creation of sound measuring instruments (scoring forms, test site checklists, etc.), as well as full documentation, including instruction manuals for candidates and test site coordinators.
Official Recognition and Cooperative Agreements
As an industry-driven organization, NCCCO has developed numerous cooperative agreements with other industry organizations and has been officially recognized by various U.S. government bodies:
- Recognized by the United States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration as meeting OSHA and ANSI (ASME) requirements for crane operator qualifications
- Approved by the United States Department of Defense to provide certification to military personnel
- Approved by the United States Department of Education to provide certification to veterans
- Recognized by the United States Department of Energy as meeting DOE qualification requirements
The NCCCO also has formal cooperative agreements with several industry associations:
- American Subcontractors Association
- Articulating Crane Council of North America (ACCNA)
- Associated General Contractors (AGC)
- Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)
- Construction Institute, American Society of Civil Engineers
- Crane Certification Association of America (CCAA)
- Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA)
- International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
- Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA)
- Steel Erectors Association of America (SEAA)
- The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC)
- "Learning to Lift", Alternative Power Construction, June 2010
- OSHA Trade News Release, March 19, 1999, "OSHA Agrees with National Commission to Recognize Crane Operator Certification" 
- “NCCCO: Certifying crane personnel since 1995,”American Cranes & Transport 2010 Sourcebook, pp 29-31
- Michael McCann/Janie Gittleman/Mary Watters, The Center for Construction Research and Training, "Crane-Related Deaths in Construction and Recommendations for Their Prevention," November 2009
- "The Real Facts," American Cranes & Transport, May 2010
- "A Review of Crane Safety in the Construction Industry," Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Volume 16(12): 1106–1117, 2001
- "NCCCO receives ANSI accreditation for Rigger and Signalperson certification schemes,” Cranes Today, October 5, 2010 
- “Operator Testing in Practice,” American Cranes & Transport, September 2005