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Union, contractors split on crane certification

Sean Ryan

Contractors say they are not ready for crane operator certifications, but the union representing many of those workers argues the rules are long overdue.

The certification requirement in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposed crane safety rules does not give contractors enough time to train and certify workers, said Jeff Shoaf, senior executive director of government and public affairs for The Associated General Contractors of America. It also does not give builders enough options to certify workers.

“We’re not opposed to the certification,” Shoaf said. “We’re opposed to the window. You have four years from when the crane rules are final to get workers certified.”

But Glen Johnson, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, said contractors in Minnesota certified their workers within two years of the state’s 2005 approval of an operator certification requirement. He said the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, which OSHA will recognize as a certification agency, had plenty of agents in Minnesota to administer tests to operators. The OSHA rules also will recognize training programs run by Operating Engineers union locals.

“It’s just a matter of having a test site to do it,” said Johnson, who testified before OSHA on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., as part of the agency’s public hearings on the proposed crane safety rules. Contractor members of The AGC testified Thursday.

Both The AGC and the National Association of Home Builders want small contractors to be able to administer their own employee training and testing. The limited number of ways workers can be certified means it will be difficult to find places to train on all of the equipment used in homebuilding, said NAHB Senior Vice President Susan Asmus.

Johnson said the problem in Minnesota isn’t that there are too few companies to certify workers. Rather, the problem is there are too many, and some of them do not have quality programs, he said. It’s important for the federal government to step in to decide which training agencies to recognize.

“There’s some entities here that advertise if you pay $2,100, they will get you a certification within 31 hours of training,” he said. “Getting a certification doesn’t make you an operator, and there needs to be more rules.”

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