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Photo Courtesy DaNite Sign Co.
Photo Courtesy DaNite Sign Co.

Crane Certification FAQs


Kenny Peskin
Director, Industry Programs
[email protected]

Rule Implementation: November 10, 2018

You might be wondering “Can I get out of this certification requirement?” The answer is you probably can’t. Here’s what every sign company needs to know about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) crane operator certification requirement.

Printable Version

Click here to download a printable version of these FAQs.

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What is the Crane Operator Certification rule?
The purpose of the requirement is to improve worker safety by requiring operators to pass OSHA-approved proficiency exams (written and practical) to obtain a "certification." The rule also requires employers to provide necessary training and evaluation to ensure operator "qualification" to operate the specific equipment used on the job.  The operator certification addresses the four main causes of worker accidents: electrocution; being crushed by the equipment; struck by the equipment or a load; and falls. Training prepares operators to recognize the principal hazards associated with crane use. You can read the full OSHA requirements here.

Who in my shop needs to get certified?
Only the crane operator must be certified. The rigger and signal person must be “qualified” for the position, but are not required to be certified. This includes knowledge of the unit’s operating controls, where to locate safety manuals and how to prevent contact with power lines. If a business uses more than one crane operator, they each must be certified.

By when do my operators need to be certified?
The current rule requires certification of crane operators by November 10, 2018.

What exams do crane operators need to pass to meet the certification requirement?  
The OSHA requirement is simply for crane operators to be “qualified or certified to operate the equipment.” The rule then describes four options to obtain qualification.
Most sign companies will be interested in pursuing Option 1 (“Certification by an accredited crane operator testing organization.”), although Option 4 (“Licensing by a government entity”) may be relevant for some companies that work only within a single state or municipality.

Who offers the exams?
Under the provisions of Option 1, at least three accredited organizations currently offer certification: the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO); the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER); and the Operating Engineers Certification Program (OECP). Each organization has a slightly different testing procedure and cost structure, though each meets the OSHA requirements.

While any of these certifications will work for sign companies, the NCCCO standard and exam is offered most widely by trainers in locations nationwide.  Although NCCER and OECP testing are on par with NCCCO, ISA’s online crane resource often describes and explains the specific details of NCCCO examinations because that testing procedure likely will apply to the largest segment of ISA members.

How will the certification requirement impact my sign business?
Fees: The operator must pass a written exam (the Core Examination plus one or more Specialty Examinations) and the practical exam to prove they understand and are compliant with OSHA’s requirements. OSHA requires that companies pay for certification of employees. Current testing fees are around $200 per person (varying with online or in-person options) for the written exam and $60 for the practical exam. Retest fees are the same as for first-time testing. For recertification (after 5 years), the written exam is expected to cost around $175. A complete list of NCCCO fees are published here ( Additional fees may apply for late registrations, rescheduling, returned checks, etc.

Time: The written exam is divided into a Core Examination plus one to four Specialty Examinations. Candidates are allowed 90 minutes to complete the Core Examination and 60 minutes to complete each Specialty Examination. Allow for a half-day window for the practical exam: 15 minutes for the actual exam per candidate, plus additional time for hands-on training and pre-testing inspections.  Note: All candidates taking the practical exam at that site may be using the same crane.  

Insurance: As certification is designed to reduce injuries, it is possible you can save money on your workers’ compensation insurance. Contact your insurance provider to find out specifically how this may affect your premiums.

Contractual requirements: As the deadline approaches, verified certification may be required by clients, property owners or as part of the municipal permitting process.

What if my crane operator(s) don’t take training?
Passing the certification isn’t likely without preparation. Taking a prep course (usually lasting 3-4 days) immediately before sitting for the exams greatly increases the passage rate. Hundreds of training providers offer 2-4 day prep courses, followed by the NCCCO exam. While more time and cost intensive up front, training may ensure a better and faster certification.

NCCCO has a small listing of online/internet training providers ( They provide up to 12-16 hours of self-directed training, ranging in cost from approximately $150 to $600. In contrast to the small number of online training providers, NCCCO has a listing of hundreds of training centers for classroom training.

Note: If you fail the certification exams, you do not have an option to retake them immediately. NCCCO requires advance notice of at least four (4) days before sitting for the written exam with a $50 late fee for registration within two weeks of the exam date. Exam results are mailed to candidates approximately 12 business days after the examination administration or 72 hours for computer-based exam locations.

What if my crane operator(s) don’t get certified?
In August 2016, OSHA fines increased dramatically. The maximum penalty for a serious violation increased to $12,471. The ceiling for willful and repeat violations also rose to $124,709. ISA recommends member companies obtain certification and comply with the OSHA requirements so your business will not lose time waiting for its certification, potentially delaying client installations.

Why should I get certification now?
Planning ahead will enable your business to get the certifications needed at the lowest cost and with the smallest disruption to the staff and workflow. Certification, when done correctly, has been shown to reduce accidents, save lives and reduce injuries. The certification provides employers with a sound basis on which to base their assessment of crane operator competency. All crane operators must be certified by November 10, 2018.

The deadline was originally set for 2014 then was pushed back twice until 2018. Could this certification requirement be delayed again or revoked?

A separate but related question is whether this rule could be further delayed or eliminated altogether. In the July 2017 federal Regulatory Agenda, the White House and federal agencies terminated 860 rules (469 withdrawals; 391 reclassifications to “long-term” or “inactive”;  The crane rule was not among those 860 included in the regulatory rollback. This suggests that the Administration sees a need for requiring crane operator certification.

ISA believes that the Administration and OSHA still intend to implement crane operator certification (and the other provisions of 29 CFR Part 1926) as soon as possible.

I only fabricate signs. I don’t install signs. Does this affect my business?
The certification exams are designed for operators who are trained and currently work in crane operation. The certification is required for any piece of equipment having a maximum (rated) capacity greater than 2,000 lbs., even if the equipment only moves loads weighing less than 2,000lbs, and for any piece of equipment used to hoist, lower or horizontally move a load. For the sign, graphics and visual communications industry specifically, this is most likely a boom truck, mobile truck crane or articulating crane. Power shovels, excavators and backhoes are specifically excluded. Most service vans, aerial ladders, or other lift platforms do not incorporate cranes with a maximum rated capacity greater than 2,000 lbs and would not be subject to the operator certification provisions of this rule.

Also, sign company fabricators must be aware that this rule requires employers to verify operator certification claims for and lessor cranes.

Can you explain more about this 2,000 lb. capacity exception?

The operator qualification requirement has several exceptions, including derricks, sideboom cranes and equipment with a maximum manufacturer-rated capacity of 2,000 pounds or less. Crane owners must be aware that the exemption is based on the manufacturer-rated capacity of the equipment, even if the crane never is used to carry a 2,000+ pound load. The second half of the printable checklist and FAQs provide context, excerpting relevant portions from the rule.