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Crane Operator Certification FAQs

Rule Implementation: November 10, 2018

You might be wondering “Can I get out of this certification requirement?” The answer is “No, 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.


Kenny Peskin
Director, Industry Programs

Printable Version

Click here to download a printable version of these FAQs.

What is the Crane Operator Certification rule?

Officially, 29 CFR Part 1926 (“Cranes and Derricks in Construction”) is an OSHA rule published in 2010 that updates the requirements for using cranes in construction industries—which includes sign installation. The operator certification requirement is just one part of the overall rule, but it may bear the most expensive out-of-pocket compliance costs to employers.

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?

Crane operators involved in sign installation need to be 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 required certification of crane operators by November 10, 2018. Other requirements had different deadlines. The employer requirement to evaluate employer competency took effect on February 7, 2019. Most other rule provisions took effect back in 2010.

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 the 16 states or municipalities that license crane operators.

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 has passed, 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 exam 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.

Another option is to find an online training provider. 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?

If your company installs signs using cranes with a rated capacity over 2,000 lbs, you need to use certified crane operators.

Certain maintenance and repair tasks performed by sign company employees MAY be outside the scope of the certification requirement because OSHA classifies them as General Industry (regulated under 29 CFR 1910) and not Construction (regulated under 29 CFR 1926). But OSHA classifies installation or major repairs of sign poles as Construction. And large sign installation also falls within Construction. Other tasks may be subject to the judgment of OSHA inspectors, as to being Construction or General Industry.

Even if your company is using cranes for tasks that do not require operator certification, they still must comply with numerous other OSHA requirements for employee evaluation, recordkeeping, equipment inspection, and worksite safety.

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?

The federal deadline already occurred. The requirements are in effect. Complying with the crane operator and employer evaluation requirements will enable your business to get the certifications needed at the lowest cost and with the smallest disruption to the staff and workflow. Certification and evaluation 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 needed to 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?

Very unlikely. This rule has gone into effect and more than 70,000 crane operators now are certified. Revoking the certification requirement would result in those individuals and employers having wasted their time and money to obtain certification.

ISA believes that the Administration and OSHA maintain crane operator certification, employer evaluation, (and the other provisions of 29 CFR Part 1926) as requirements for Construction industries (including sign installation).

I only fabricate signs. I don't install signs. Does this affect my business?

The operator certification requirement applies to Construction industries, including sign installation. Sign manufacturing, within the plant, is classified as General Industry and subject to other OSHA regulations. The certification exams are designed for operators who are trained and currently work in crane operation in Construction industries. 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. However, other types of cranes and aerial lifts still are regulated under other OSHA rules

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 the 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.

Even if a sign company exclusively works with cranes rated at less than 2,000 lbs and is exempt from the operator certification requirement, they still must comply with the other provisions of 29 CFR 1926 including employer evaluation and documentation.