The association responsible for assessing all crane operators in B.C. and the Yukon is shifting from a high-volume to a low-volume business model, as demand for certification falls to a new low. “Initially, our focus was on incumbent operators and in the next few months we will be operating at capacity,” said Fraser Cocks, executive director of the (BCACS). “Existing crane operators were provided with a two-year phase in period to become certified. We knew we would eventually have to shift gears to a low volume business model, but this is happening sooner than expected.”
When WorkSafeBC decided to require all operators of boom, tower and mobile cranes to pass a mandatory written and hands-on exam, nobody knew how many crane operators were working in the construction industry. “Essentially, we began this process back in 2007, with the applications registration process,” said Cocks. “There was no charge for that and we were trying to capture the industry at large, knowing that we had to assess and credential them as part of this process.”
The BCACS registered and identified more than 10,000 crane operators and this number has continued to grow. This figure is more than double the initial estimates from 2007. When all the new operators entering into the system were taken into account, it was then estimated that 14,000 crane operators need ed to be certified. The large number of people requiring certification raised concerns that the certification process would not be completed before the July 8, 2008 deadline. Given the overwhelming response, the deadline was extended to February 28, 2011.
It is important to note that there are a limited number of assessment opportunities available before the deadline. If a crane operator doesn’t hold a valid certificate by this date, they will not be in compliance with the regulation and will not be legally permitted to operate a crane in the province. As the deadline approaches, it is becoming more difficult for the BCACS to estimate how many people still need to go through the mandatory assessment process.
The BCACS has engaged 7,700 operators in the new certification process. Out of these people, 4,400 have been properly assessed and have their credentials. This means there are about 2,300 people that need to be accounted for, since the initial identification and registration began in 2007. According to Cocks, there are several reasons for the lower assessment numbers, including people who have retired, died or moved to other jurisdictions.
For example, operators that are employed by mines, ports or railways in B.C. are governed by regulators that have different jurisdictional authority. Therefore, they are not covered by WorkSafeBC and are exempt from this process. Another reason is the current economic state of the construction industry. “The original estimate was developed during a construction boom with an inflated number of people employed in the construction industry,” said Cocks. “We are currently in a slump, and would therefore expect a lower number of applicants.”
During the boom, many operators were on projects and needed proof that they had registered in order to comply with the new WorkSafeBC regulations. However, these projects are now complete and new ones haven’t started. For this reason, many of the people that registered have now moved on to other types of work or careers. Cocks said about seven per cent of all operators that registered have moved.
The BCACS has attempted to locate them by phoning the last available provided phone number, calling the identified employer and searching the internet. If people are found to be no longer operating a crane, the BCACS requests an official removal from their system. Initially, all employees were registered. But, some of these operators were occasional users because there was a crane available. Once the system was understood, the employer reduced the number of operators to a select group.
The BCACS planned to assess all operators with or without credentials, but the Agreement on Internal Trade changed that plan. These operators are no longer required to be assessed. So, all out-of-province credentials are recognized. Assessment services will continue to be offered throughout the province. The application process and the assessment fee of $500 will remain the same until the deadline. But, as the incumbent operator phase comes to a close, the practical assessment fee will jump to $750.