The Importance of Heavy Equipment Operator Certifications

In June of 2011, Takis Escoto, a construction worker in Windsor, Canada, was struck and killed by a front-end wheel loader.  As a result of the coroner’s inquest, the jury found that the operator of the wheel loader had not received any formal training or any type of certification.  It is likely that the members of that jury were surprised to find out that in Canada, as in the United States, there is very little regulation pertaining to the training and certification of heavy equipment operators.  While the driver of a motor vehicle, including a small motorcycle, requires a license in all 50 states, almost anyone can drive and operate large earthmoving equipment without even a standard driver’s license.

Front end wheel loader

Current OSHA requirements call for minimal training for heavy equipment operators.  Requirements for crane operators, however, are being formalized and tightened.  Beginning in November of 2017, all crane operators involved in construction will be required to obtain certification.  The crane operator certifications that are accepted by OSHA typically are conducted by a third-party evaluator and involve in-depth written exams and hands-on practical exams.  In 2005 Cal/OSHA implemented a crane operator certification law to insure that operators have a minimum level of knowledge and skill necessary to operate cranes safely.

Today, across the United States, the various stakeholders in the construction industry, from operators to employers to clients and end-users, rely on the subjective judgment of supervisors and trainers to determine whether or not the skills and knowledge of an operator are sufficient to operate safely and effectively.  Too often, assumptions regarding qualifications are proven wrong as jobs are done incorrectly, equipment is damaged, or people are injured or killed.  The utilization of a third-party assessment and certification tool, based on sound methodology, would increase the transparency of what operators know and are able to do.  In turn, this would contribute to effective and targeted training for operators.

At the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Mr. Escoto, the jury submitted six recommendations to help prevent similar accidents in the future.  At the top of their list was the recommendation that all operators receive formal heavy equipment training with regular refresher courses and that they be certified.


Please see: Sarah Sacheli, “Inquest recommends certification,” The Windsor Star.  November 1, 2013.  Last accessed on December 16, 2013.

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