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What Is a Crane Operator?

By 2029, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 4% rise in employment in the equipment operation industry. One specialized area within the equipment industry is crane operation, and it can be a rewarding career. Most heavy equipment operators enjoy the frequent change in scenery and work site conditions.

Learn more about the crane operator job description, like typical job responsibilities, what industries you may seek work in and how to become a crane operator with or without certification.

Crane Operator Responsibilities

Crane operators are heavy equipment operators whose training or work background explicitly focuses on operating a crane. Cranes are a type of heavy machinery that workers use to lift and transport supplies, materials, platforms or other workers to complete a project. A crane operator may have focused training on specific types of cranes or may work with various crane machines, depending on the job or employer.

Some common fixed and mobile crane types are:

  • Tower cranes.
  • Telescopic cranes.
  • Crawler cranes.
  • Carry deck cranes.
  • Rough terrain cranes.
  • Truck-mounted cranes.

Crane Operator Tasks

Though a crane operator may work under several others’ direction, like project or site managers, they are responsible for understanding how to operate and maintain their machine safely.

Typical tasks include:

  • Maintenance: While most crane operators aren’t responsible for major repairs or part replacements, part of operating your machine is understanding how each component works, so you know if something’s wrong. You will need to practice basic machine maintenance, including part inspection, and stay informed about service alerts or routine service appointments. You may also be responsible for determining whether specialized crane equipment, like a higher-than-average mast, is needed for a specific task.
  • Safety: Safety: Keeping yourself, your coworkers, pedestrians and personal property safe is the most critical part of crane operation. Attend all required training classes and stay informed about changes in your machine, the industry and the work site. Know how to operate your equipment in all weather conditions, including rain and low visibility. Always maintain a clear field of view while working. Make sure your site manager briefs you about job-specific risks or considerations before beginning a new task.
  • Operation: Operation refers to the steps you take to use your machine, including controlling the crane and its speed, movement, direction and position. You will need to know how to lift and lower on all terrain types. Operation includes following all signals and instructions provided by coworkers, clients, employers or site managers.
  • Paperwork: Depending on the assignment, you will probably be required to maintain work logs at the end of each shift or week. Additional paperwork includes securing and requesting necessary materials, equipment or services to complete your job by an established deadline.
  • Communication: Successful equipment operation relies on teamwork and communication with other equipment operators and management. Coordinate with all relevant parties, including contractors. You will work together to create and stick to a plan of action and make adjustments as needed.

These tasks are not exhaustive — each employer, worksite and project may have specific objectives, safety guidelines or requirements.

Industries That Use Crane Operators

Cranes are an essential part of many industries, including commercial, industrial and residential projects. While many crane operators work outdoors, some jobs may require indoor or underground work.

Common crane operator industries and jobs include:

  • Iron and steel milling and production.
  • Manufacturing facilities.
  • Tree removal and installation services.
  • Rail transportation.
  • Electric power generation.
  • Water transportation.
  • Warehouses.
  • Underground mines.
  • Docks.
  • Aerospace.
  • Carpentry and general construction.
  • Cellular towers.
  • Film production sets.
  • Bridge and highway construction.
  • Roofing installation and repair.

As a crane operator, you can seek work with contracting companies, construction sites and project managers. Many seek employment with full-service crane companies, which gives you access to the latest industry training.

How to Become a Crane Operator

As with any equipment operation position, you should be able to safely lift weight and operate machinery, sit and stand for several hours and wear all required safety and visibility equipment on the job site. Crane operation is not a good fit for anyone seeking a quiet, low-impact career — many job tasks will be labor-intensive and require great focus.

If you’re interested in pursuing crane operation, you need the following skills and abilities:

  • Alertness: Safe crane operation requires someone who can stay awake and alert on the job at all times, without exception. You should also be able to multitask while remaining aware of your surroundings.
  • Mechanics: Some jobs will require an extensive work background in mechanics. Others may not. That said, it’s a good idea to have some sort of mechanical experience, especially those involving precise movements or heavy loads.
  • Communication: You must know how to communicate verbally and nonverbally, including taking instructions and carefully following all rules.
  • Performance: A good crane operator succeeds under pressure, meets work deadlines and manages their time well to meet objectives. They should promote safe crane operation and avoid accidents.

Every job — especially those involving heavy machinery — comes with specific risks. Always follow safety rules, including required uniforms and protective gear, and stay up-to-date on training. Though each job varies, the responsibilities of a crane operator may involve working in inclement weather and loud environments.

Education

Most employers require a high school education or similar for entry-level crane operation positions. However, you will need additional training in crane operation if you’ve never worked with the equipment before. Some of this training may be provided on the job, while some employers may require outside training or certification before hiring you. You can enroll in these programs at community colleges and vocational or technical schools.

Certifications

If an employer or project manager requests specific crane certification, it means there are legal or safety considerations you must meet and maintain. Some programs will certify you in general crane use, while others are targeted toward specific crane types or applications. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) is one widely recognized certification program.

The path to crane certification typically involves passing a written and practical crane operation test while fulfilling all other state requirements.

Some certification programs may have entry restrictions, like age, experience or education. Some employers may require a crane operator’s license in addition to your certification — consult your state and local laws for further guidance.

Work With General Crane in CT for Full-Service Crane Work

General Crane is a full-service crane company offering safe, efficient crane service throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Our dedication to a job well done is backed by our incident-free record and decades of industry experience on projects of all types and sizes.

Give us a call at (860) 528-8252 or contact us online to learn more about our services.