Changes for Those with Cranes

Published On: May 30, 2017By Categories: Drilling, Features, Safety, Workforce Development

If you use a crane, make sure you are up to speed.

By John Fowler, CSP, CMSP

Some of us in the water well drilling and pump service industry use cranes frequently, so planning ahead for when OSHA begins enforcing its crane operator requirements can help avoid headaches.

On November 10, 2017, OSHA will begin enforcing the requirement all crane operators in the construction industry, operating a crane with a maximum capacity greater than 2000 pounds, will need to be nationally certified (OSHA regulation 1926.1400 Subpart CC).

The first thing to understand is the operator certification requirement does not apply to a “dedicated drill rig” [OSHA 1926.1400(C)(11)]. Although a pump rig is not specifically mentioned as equipment excluded from this requirement, a pump hoist does not fit OSHA’s definition of a crane. The requirement only applies to a crane, which OSHA defines as:. . . power-operated equipment, when used in construction, that can hoist, lower, and horizontally move a suspended load. [OSHA 1926.1400(a)]

For those of us still affected because we use cranes, we first need to decide who in our company needs to hold this certification. Those who operate cranes the most should be the first to be certified.

But do all of your crane operators need to be certified? No.

If you are an “operator-in-training,” you can operate a crane as long as you are under the supervision of a certified crane operator per OSHA 1926.1427(f). The certified operator must be on site at all times, except for short breaks.

This means you can start by certifying the most experienced operator on each crew and then certify more operators as they gain experience.

But who else needs to be certified? What about a mechanic? Technically, a mechanic’s truck crane rated at more than 2000 pounds capacity is exempt if it is only being used “in activities related to equipment maintenance and repair.” [OSHA 1926.1400 (c)(9)] But the catch is as soon as that mechanic’s crane is used, for example, to load a drum of hydraulic oil or bring some needed equipment for the crews in the field, then the operator needs to be certified.

So how do operators become certified?

In order to certify an operator, the training program needs to be nationally accredited. There are four such nationally accredited training programs in the country.

Of the four, only the CIC, NCCCO, and NCCER are open to the general public. There are also third-party trainers available, but they represent one of these companies.

Dedicated Drilling Rigs and Pump Hoists: How Does OSHA Classify?
By Kathy Butcher, CMP

The National Ground Water Association actively participated in federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration hearings in March 2004 during the development of OSHA’s current Crane and Derrick Standard.

From these meetings came the first time “dedicated drilling rigs” were used to refer to the equipment used in the water well drilling industry. And in accordance with federal laws governing cranes and hoisting equipment operators and operations, “dedicated drilling rigs” are exempt.

In February 1982, this statement and question was posed to OSHA:

During the performance of water well drilling, a hoist is used to lower the pump and possibly other objects in the well and for other purposes related to the drilling process. Is use of the hoist covered by the requirements of Subpart CC?

The OSHA response was as follows:

OSHA has determined that water well drilling equipment and activities, like oil and gas drilling, are covered by applicable requirements of 29 CFR Part 1910 (General Industry).

Rationale later cited for the applicability of standards to water well drilling was cited as:

Water well drilling, oil, and gas well drilling expose employees to similar hazards; therefore, employers engaged in drilling operations shall comply with appropriate General Industry Standards. This is an exception in classifying an industry when using the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) manual, but is necessary for proper citing of water well drilling alleged violations.

The SIC code for water well construction is 1781, which is categorized under “Construction”—thus the reference to the exception above, since water well construction and related activities are considered under the General Industry Standard.

Dedicated drilling rigs and pump hoists encompass water well drilling activities, and are thus regulated under the General Industry Standard at the federal level. State regulations can and often do treat the activities and equipment differently with greater regulation. It is always advisable to check to see what regulations your state has for your company’s activities.

Kathy Butcher, CMP, is NGWA’s director of professional development. She can be reached at (800) 551-7379, ext. 1526, or email

These companies certify operators using both written and practical hands-on tests. Expect the whole process—including the prep class, written test, and practical test—to last about four days, depending on the trainer and experience level of your operator.

While November 10, 2017 may seem far away, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Although OSHA has not begun enforcing its certification requirements, 17 states already require either special licensing or certifications: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.

In addition to these states, many individual companies are starting to require anyone operating a crane on their property to be certified. So in reality, you may need certified operators right now! It pays to check so you’re not hit with unwanted surprises.

John Fowler, CSP, CMSP, has been in the drilling industry for more than 20 years, working on projects ranging from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska to ice drilling in Greenland and at the U.S. South Pole Station in Antarctica. For the past 13 years, Fowler has been working as a safety manager for a large mineral exploration drilling contractor. He serves on NGWA’s Safety Task Force and is a regular safety workshop presenter at Groundwater Week. He can be reached at

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