A system of personnel certification is applicable when considerable risks arise for persons, companies and/or customers who are working in hazardous environments. Considerable risks can be categorized into persons (injury/death, image, liability), companies (loss of personnel, clients, image, liability, project losses) and/or customers (image, delay of projects).

Most of the time a system of personnel certification is complementary to product certification and system certification.

Liability is in many cases the main reason for individuals, companies, branch organisations or customers to develop and/or demand a system of personnel certification. Far beyond this, the guarantee and maintenance of professional competences is also a reason to start personnel certification.

The system of personnel certification consists of three main activities:

  • testing
  • certification
  • supervision/guarantees

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The same counts for a candidate who wants to be certified by a registrar. To pass a test is a prerequisite for certification. For this test a job description, a professional profile and worked out test objectives covering all needed competences, knowledge, insight and attitudes for fulfilling a job are required.

Testing methods used vary from multiple-choice tests, theoretical and practical assignments to assessments for which the judgement procedures, forms and criteria are determined before the tests take place.

If a candidate passes the test, the certification procedure can start. A certification manager will formally judge the test results and certify the candidate. If a candidate fulfils all requirements, an agreement will be signed that formulates the certification conditions, rights and obligations. Certification conditions are the length of validity of certificates, the validation conditions, the regime of periodical review, withdrawal conditions and re-certification requirements.

All personnel certificates are under supervision. So are the registrars that issue these certificates. The process of supervision guarantees the value of the issued certificates. Individuals have to deal with the regime of periodical review and re-certification by a registrar. A registrar has to deal with specific bodies raised by the organisation that owns a specific certification scheme.

Neither a training institute, an examination body or a registrar determines the value of a personnel certificate. A personnel certificate only has its value if the relevant parties in the market, organized in a Committee of Experts, have an agreement about the certification criteria, the method of testing and certification conditions for initial and re-certification.

The minimal requirement for the development of a system of personnel certification is described in the ISO 17024 standard. The main issues to be addressed are the content of a certification schedule (testing, certification, maintenance), the broad acceptance by relevant market parties in a Committee of Experts, the independence of examination and/or certification from training and company interests, and clear and controllable criteria for maintenance, periodical review and re-certification.

Case study: the Netherlands

Since 2000, relevant market parties in the Netherlands developed a system of personnel certification for operators of cranes and pile driver frames. This system is based on the national safety law and the regulations of the Ministry of social affairs and labor safety.

This system consists of an initial certification by theoretical and practical examination under the condition that the certification is valid for five years. Re-certification is by:

  • Minimum of 2 years active as operator during certification period of which a minimum of a half a year during the last 3 years.
  • Logging by a register of practice to be owned by the operator and which is checked quarterly by the employer.

If certificate holders do not fulfil the recertification conditions, they has to go through a complete examination again.

About the author:

Dr. Stephan Obdeijn (b. 1966) is responsible for training & qualification, personnel certification and technical product management. More than 45,000 people, including workers in utilities, company safety services and construction contractors are registered by Kema Quality, a Dutch based international operating registrar. This talk is an edited version of a presentation given at a conference organised by remote control vendor TER in Milan, Italy in November 2003.


In the US, an examination and certification scheme for overhead crane operators will be ready in September, according to Phillip Kinser, manager of programme development at the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.

The organisation, which operates a successful mobile crane operator certification scheme, is also releasing a scheme for tower crane operators later this year.

The exam will only be open to experienced overhead crane operators, though exactly how much experience is necessary remains under discussion.

The exam will consist of written and practical sessions. Operators will need to be recertified every five years.

Also under discusssion is whether cab-operated crane operators would have a ticket independent of operators using pendant controls. There are no plans to offer different tickets for crane operators and riggers slinging loads and signalling the driver.

Already, the group has developed an analysis of crane operation, in consultation with industry, and has developed the written test.

At time of writing, it was trying to refine the practical test. ‘The biggest problem with overhead cranes is you have people who are full-time operators, versus people who use the crane as a tool for 15 minutes a day,’ Kinser says. This makes it difficult to know at what level to pitch the test, he adds.

He admits that companies with infrequently-used cranes might not bother to certify their operators, or might only have them take the written test. He says the second possibility is also being discussed as an option.

But he also says that the mere existence of a certification scheme will convince some companies to take part. ‘Many companies don’t know how much training or certification is neccesary to meet their obligations. Because the CCCO test does exist, they can do it just to be safe.’

After the task force finishes developing the practical part of the exam, it will test the program among users, and then submit the final scheme to the US accreditation agency, the National Organisation of Competency Assurance.