No Room for Error
June 21, 2016 | News
“Hey Jerry, if I buy you a breakfast burrito off the roach coach, do you think I could run your crane while you’re on break”? That sentence pretty much sums up all the formal crane operator training that I received as a young Ironworker wanting to get into operating. I tell that story to young operator trainees now a days and they all think that we had it made back then, we didn’t have to attend classes, or pass any tests. The part they don’t know is that I did this for 7 years, always under the watchful eye of some of the best, most seasoned operators working in the industry. I would jump into the crane every chance I got, even if that meant getting to work 30 minutes early in the dead of winter to fire up the crane and make sure that it was warm for the operator when he showed up. It was a long process, in the early 90’s we did not have the skilled craft worker shortage that we face today. Today I see young operators filling up our classes that have only months of experience, not years. And these are the lucky ones, the ones who work for employers that believe in training their people. I imagine that for every operator that we see in class there are five more who are put into seats of cranes with little or no training. Our current labor shortage means that there is no room for error for these young crane operators. Their “rookie years” are 7 months long, not 7 years like mine was. Modern cranes are easier to run since friction draw works have been replaced by hydraulic pumps. This makes it virtually impossible to “drop a load”. The flip side of that coin is that today’s cranes are also massive, capable of moving tonnages that even 10 years ago was unheard of. So while cranes have become easier to operate, when an operator does mess up, the accident is more apt to be catastrophic. In 2017 OSHA’s Subpart CC 1926.1427 requiring all operators to be certified, goes into effect. It is important to note that OSHA does not equate certified to qualified, and neither should crane owners. Just as we would not let our sixteen year old that has just received his or her license drive an eighteen wheeler, we should not let new crane operators operate cranes without some serious training and mentoring from seasoned operators. The good news is that the training community has tightened the gap between the classroom and the job site with operator training programs and simulators. Today’s operators may not have to pay burrito tuition to get some seat time, but they still need to be afforded training time in the seat that is during non-production hours where they can mess up in front of a trainer and not the watchful eye of the media.
Click the picture below for a great article by Josh Barbanel in The Wall Street Journal today about this very topic.