After many conversations with managers and supervisors as well as with individuals new to the crane industry seeking certification, time has come to provide this information in an attempt to stop the PAIN! Everyone is facing the same challenge these days with a National OSHA regulation that mandates Crane Operator Certification. With a shortage of Crane Operators, many managers and supervisors alike are struggling to find good quality personnel, then many times experience their training dollars wasted as those they have chosen to be Crane Operators have failed the NCCCO Practical Examination. This after sending them to 3 or more days of expensive preparation with a training provider to prepare for the NCCCO written examinations. It’s frustrating for sure for everyone.

The problem is the NCCCO practical examinations were developed to be a fair and valid way to TEST the skills of a PROFESSIONAL Crane Operator. Test the skills they use every day while operating a crane. I do believe the NCCCO practical examinations does what they were designed to do. The key word to remember is TEST the skills, not DEVELOP the skills. Too often owners, managers and supervisors are sending personnel to be tested that are NOT professional crane operators. A crane operator is someone that operates a crane all day, every day and has advanced skills and experience.

Another mistake often made is using the NCCCO practical examination and its equipment as a tool to develop crane operator skills. It is my professional opinion there are many basic skills that must be developed before a person should ever operate a crane. Especially around other workers or making lifts, and long before challenging a National Practical Examination. So what should be done to develop those skills and set up future crane operators for success? Here are a few of my recommendations;

1. Send your future crane operator to a good trainer and prepare for the written examinations. NCCCO does allow the written and practical examination to be taken in any order. However without the basics such as Personnel Safety you shouldn’t be around the crane. Other basic knowledge includes how to set up the crane, how to perform an inspection, nomenclature, and international hand signals, as well as how to leave the crane unattended. These are just a few one must know and understand to successfully pass a written examination. Also the same knowledge areas are going to be asked and be demonstrated by the crane operator during the practical examination. Don’t skip the classroom training to see if your candidate can pass the practical examination. The foundation, the basic principles they will need for both the written and the practical are taught in the classroom.

2. It all starts by conducting a frequent inspection of the crane followed by a proper setup of the crane required by the manufacture. Next start with these simple tasks.

A. While standing or sitting at the controls, start with the right hand. Place your hand on the control on the far left. State the name of the lever and its function out loud and without looking at it. Move to each and every control lever using only your right hand, naming each lever and its function. Move across the row of controls to the right and then again to the left naming out loud its purpose over and over. NEXT switch to your left hand and do the same procedure. NOW switch to your feet, identifying any boom up or down pedals, including boom extension or throttle controls. Practice over and over until the location of all levers and controls for both your feet and hands are second nature to you and solid in your memory. This procedure should be done for all cranes that are going to be used for practice or testing purposes.

B. Open up the throttle control using the hand throttle if equipped or your foot pedal about ½ open. Practice gently easing into each control lever one at a time feeling and hearing the hydraulic system working as hydraulic oil moves in and out of the valves that control each function. AS YOU GAIN THE FEEL YOU WILL GAIN THE SKILL. Practice each control lever and its function, you will gain control of the entire crane in this fashion, learning how it feels, sounds and even smells. There is an old saying “make the machine work for you, not you work for the machine”. The machine needs its hydraulic system to work properly. That’s why the throttle needs to be opened up. You will learn to control speed and smoothness using your control levers. Too often new or inexperienced crane operator run the crane at an idle. The machine will not work efficiently at an idle. When the crane is starving for hydraulic fluid often times the machine will jerk or shake. Open the throttle and “make the crane work for you”.

C. Now it’s time to work the crane and have a little fun as well. Move the crane into an open area free of overhead obstructions and room to swing the crane boom. After a good set up with the outriggers or stabilizers, fully extended and set and the crane level, you are ready to begin. At this time swing the boom, operate the hoist and boom levers and get to know the crane. Just have some fun. Build and gain your confidence, running the crane through all its functions.

D. This task requires a helper to work with the Crane Operator. With the Crane Operator at the controls run out and extend 50% of the total length of hydraulic boom extensions. The helper’s job is to stand in direct view of the crane operator and demonstrate each of the ASME B30.5 hand signals that are printed in the Safety Standard. This session should be practiced over and over until each signal is memorized deep into the Crane Operator and becomes second nature to them. This is a very important task and should not be taken lightly. The Crane Operator must know these signals for both the written and practical examinations, and more importantly, out on the job.

E. At this point the Crane Operator is ready to start development of all the skills necessary to be a professional. The skills you learn, as well as the basic foundation you have already developed, will not only lead to successful completion of the NCCCO Practical Examination, it will be the basis of a safe and successful career as a professional crane operator.

F. Starting with Tasks One and Two shown below, all Crane Operators MUST understand and be able to demonstrate the skill and control of the crane called “COVER THE HOOK”. Until this skill has been mastered using both the BOOM CONTROLS and SWING CONTROLS no other tasks should be challenged until they do. This is a skill that takes a while to develop. However once it’s learned, it’s a skill that will stay with the crane operator through his entire career. Once this skill is developed, the crane operator may move on with all the additional tasks I have provided here. Task after task the crane operator will develop all the skills he will need to operate the crane safely and efficiently.

Print out each task to take into the field and practice each skill until mastered, then move on to the next task to develop each and every one of them. These tasks will build the skills and confidence needed to challenge and pass the NCCCO Mobile Crane Practical Examinations.