Crane Operator

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Crane Operator


Imagine how many people it would take to move a giant sized tank? When heavy and awkward objects need to be moved and transported, cranes do the job. Well, not exactly. Crane operators actually maneuver the crane. Crane operators service and operate the hoist and swing equipment used to move machinery at construction sites, industrial yards, ports and other locations. Just like Fred Flintstone, crane operators sit in the little booth (called a cab) and direct the movement and activity of the crane.

Crane operators manipulate a number of pedals and levers to rotate the crane, and raise and lower its boom and one or more loadlines. They often perform all or some of these operations simultaneously. These days cranes are computerized so operators must know how to operate these newer, more user friendly devices. Also, as cranes get lighter, they are able to lift heavier loads.

Crane operators use a number of different cranes to lift cargo, machinery and other objects, small distances. The weight that cranes carry is quite high -- from less than 90 tons to several thousand tons. There are several different types of cranes which come in various shapes and sizes, designated to perform certain tasks. There are bridge cranes, tower cranes, mobile cranes, pile-driving cranes and hydraulic cranes, just to name a few. The three basic cranes are boom trucks, tower cranes and mobile cranes.

Wellhead boom truck operators set up units and operate hydraulic booms used for wellhead pumping operations, wire line operations and coiled tubing operations. Medium or heavy boom truck operators operate hydraulic booms that are mounted on trucks and are capable of moving very heavy loads. Tower crane operators service and operate traveling, fixed or climbing type hoisting equipment with a vertical mast or tower and a jib. Accordingly, mobile crane operators service and operate booms which are mounted on crawlers or wheeled frames. Mobile operators sometimes drive the crane to the construction site, and rig the machine up using blocking and levelling materials.

Other aspects of the crane operators job include assembling and dismantling the crane, performing routine maintenance and driving the crane from one construction site to the next. Depending on the operator's employer, the length of time that a crane operator spends with one project can vary. For example, a large project, like a tunnel, may last for years whereas a more standard project will last under a year or even a few weeks.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful crane operators must have good vision, coordination and manual dexterity. They must feel comfortable working at heights, and have the ability to work as part of a team and communicate with ground crews, usually using hand signals and voice communication. They are good decision-makers who are prepared to work independently when necessary. Also, sitting for long periods of time is one part of the job, yet they must be physically fit in order to lift and carry crane parts, maintain the machine, and climb in and out of the cab.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Operate mobile and tower cranes to lift, move, position or place equipment and materials at construction sites, shipyards, industrial yards and similar locations
  • Operate pile driving cranes to drive pilings into earth to provide support for buildings and other structures
  • Operate cranes equipped with dredging attachments to dredge waterways and other areas
  • Operate gantry and locomotive cranes to load and unload ship cargo at port side and at railway yards
  • Use bridge or overhead cranes to lift, move and place plant machinery and materials
  • Operate offshore oil rig cranes to unload and reload supply vessels
  • Operate cranes mounted on boats or barges to lift, move and place equipment and materials
  • Perform routine maintenance work such as cleaning and lubricating cranes
  • Crane operators work outdoors, but indoors, often in noisy, dusty conditions. They sit in cabs in the middle of construction sites. The work in all weather conditions, often in remote areas. Crane operators work a 40-hour, five-day work week, but longer hours may be required to meet construction deadlines. There are a number of occupational hazards associated with working as a crane operator, including injuries resulting from power line contact, crane overload, falls, weather conditions or manual lifting.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Crane operators work for general contractors and subcontractors in forestry, mining, oil, construction, industrial, cargo handling and railway companies. They also work for crane rental companies or for any project that requires lifting and moving heavy objects.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced crane operators may advance to supervisory positions, or set up their own crane rental businesses. With additional training, crane operators can transfer their skills to related occupations such as heavy equipment technician or rigging supervisor.

  Educational Paths  
Crane operators receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory to become a crane operator, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the crane operator a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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