Every employer shall ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken,” according to Section 9, paragraph 1, of the UK’s Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), 1998. The phrase ‘work equipment’ includes hoists and gantry cranes. That is the legal reason why employers need to make sure that their crane operators are competent to operate the equipment they use. In other words they must be given training.
Other countries have similar legislation. There is of course a better reason than legislation. Untrained operators cause accidents. Safety at work must always be paramount.
“That PUWER regulation, together with Section 2.2 of the Health and Safety at Work act 1974, for the UK pretty much stipulates that employers must look at the risks and as far as possible eliminate them. That is where we come in,” says Mike Ray, managing director of family-owned company ACE Trainers, based in Hampshire.
ACE offer courses on telehandlers and overhead cranes, as well as forklifts, plant vehicles and rough terrains.
“We cover the things that a crane operator needs to know – the practical side but also the theory, and the laws and regulations behind crane operations,” says Ray. “We train with generally around five or six students per instructor; 90% of the training we do is on employers’ own premises and is paid for by the employers.”
ACE offers one-day refresher courses for experienced crane operators or two-day courses for novices. “On that course, Day One is in the classroom, doing pretty much all of the theoretical side of crane operation,” adds Ray. “So we will go through Health and Safety, PUWER and LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) obligations, with whatever other regulations that may be applicable to the particular site and operations that the trainee will be working on in his job. There are the Do’s and Don’ts of using a crane – the obvious ones, such as don’t raise a load over somebody’s head, the perhaps less obvious ones like the pre-use checks that must be carried out each time that you start using a crane. We cover the direct risks and the indirect ones; lifting plans, the need to check slings and other equipment as well as the crane itself; and at the end of that day there is a theoretical exam, and also a pre-use exam, that the trainee has to pass. The theory exam has 25 questions; 20 of them are multiple-choice and five are open questions. When they have passed that – the pass mark is 80% – the second day is on the crane, putting all that theoretical knowledge into actual practice.
“We look to see various objects to lift and to lift around. We use differently shaped objects – for example round ones that require choke hitch slinging. We practice lifting sweetly in a safe manner, and also keeping the hook over the centre of gravity. That is the biggest mistake that most people make: they hook something up, fail to consider where the centre of gravity is, lift it up – and it flies off.
“Hand signals are in the training as well; that is part and parcel of using the machine safely with someone else. At the end of the day there is again an exam, this time a practical one, and if the trainee passes, the certificate is awarded.
“Some training companies offer national certification, for example from ITSSAR [the International Training Standards Scheme and Register] or from LEEA [Lifting Equipment Engineers Association].” These are nationally-recognised accreditation bodies; others are AITT [Association of Industrial Truck Trainers, who also certify for cranes and slinging] and RTITB. A certificate from any of these is good evidence that the holder is competent to operate any crane of the type he has trained for, wherever it may be or whoever may own it. In other words, it is transferrable from job to job. “Some training companies tend instead to do ‘in-house’ certification. That certifies that the trainee is competent to operate the crane owned by the company in the particular factory or plant that he has trained for.
“I am a big fan of in-house certification,” says Ray. “Employers like it because it means their trainee cannot simply up and go elsewhere as soon as the employer has paid for his training; I like in-house because it is tailored to the company that the trainee works for and to the job that he will actually be doing. As well as the national minimum he will have had training on the company’s cranes and on whatever it is that that company actually lifts. Anything that he comes across at the company in he will have been taught about.
“As an example, a few weeks back I trained crane operators at a company that makes outboard engines for boats. An outboard has the small propeller at one end and the big heavy engine at the other. So a pallet of lined-up engines looks pretty standard, but all of the weight is at one end of the pallet. If you think the centre of gravity is in the middle you are going to have a bit of a shock when you lift it.
“So what I like about in-house training is that it is tailored. If the operator goes on to another company they should retrain, because at the end of the day they don’t know what the new risks are.”
Wolverhampton-based PLT training offers in-house certification, or accreditation from RTITB and ITSSAR.
“We will train for whichever one the client asks for,” says their sales manager Kath Lang. An in-house certificate, as we have seen, allows the holder to work for a specific company: “It doesn’t matter if the company has got five different sites. As long as they are all branded under the same company an in-house licence is all that required.” RTITB and ITSSAR certificates in contrast are valid nationwide. A certificate from either of them is transferrable between employers, so the holder can change jobs without needing to re-train – though familiarisation with new machinery is still a requirement.
“The RTITB and ITSSAR accreditations do demand a certain number of hours of training, as set out by the awarding body. In-house certification can be done with fewer hours,” she says.
Not surprisingly, accredited course content is similar whoever is the training provider. “Our courses are given by trainers who have teaching qualifications as well as practical experience, and they follow HSE guidelines on what should be included,” says Lang. PLT has 17 instructors on its staff and offer training nationwide. UK demand is roaring back post-pandemic. “Demand is berserk at the moment,” says Lang. “Everyone has come back after a year out of their building and so we need to get people refreshed. Refreshing the certification is good practice every three to five years or if there’s been an accident or a significant change to the machine.”
Mentor FLT Training is based in Chesterfield and provides hoist training under AITT certification. “We also offer LEEA accredited operator training on Electric Overhead Travelling Cranes, including pendant, remote and cab control methods,” says Amy Alton, marketing manager, Mentor FLT Training. “In the UK, the course type is determined by control method rather than lifting capacity. Those wishing to use multiple methods would need to do the relevant conversion courses to convert from one type to another.
“How long courses take depends on a number of factors. Accredited courses must cover set topics and meet pre-determined standards,” she says. “The best training providers will not cut corners, so expect their courses to take longer. A novice will require a longer, more comprehensive course than someone undergoing a refresher; and accrediting bodies will set a maximum number of trainees per instructor. Up to this amount, often the more trainees per instructor the longer the training duration. As an example, a LEEA accredited cab crane course for four novice delegates would take around 40 hours.
“Each course we give includes only trainees at the same experience level, so a novice course would include only novices. And they take place at the customers’ sites. This ensures that operators learn using their own equipment, in their everyday working environment. We find it provides a better trainee experience and reduces the amount of familiarisation that would be needed when returning to site. If trainees do not pass the course at the first attempt, they can usually take one additional attempt before further training would be recommended.” For Mentor too, the gradual return to normal has caused a post-Covid backlog, with demand for training now at unprecedented levels.