Regulatory Changes in Quebec Crane Operator Training

Expert Panel Report Does Not Respect Safety Demands of Those Who Do the Work

The Quebec government unilaterally decreed in April of last year, new regulations governing the training of Quebec crane operators. The decree overturned the established standards and training that new crane operators must meet to ensure their own safety and that of other construction workers and the public. The government handed down its decree despite widespread opposition to the regulations, in particular from the crane operators themselves and their union.

Graphic on crane safety produced by FTQ Construction comparing previous 870 hours mandatory classroom training to new 80-hour on-the-job training requirement.

During public hearings into the proposed changes construction workers and their unions took a firm stand, describing the changes as unsafe and in violation of the Canadian Standards Association's Z150 safety code under which all Quebec crane workers fall. The code specifies the requirements related to mobile cranes to ensure the safety of workers and the public.

The initiative for the changes came from the state-organized and funded Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ), which oversees the construction trades and workers for the benefit of the biggest construction companies. The companies complained about a shortage of crane operators and demanded that the training regulations be greatly relaxed to create a larger pool of available crane operators regardless of their training and competence in the trade.

The government refuses to listen to the crane operators and their union and insists on implementing the changes. The crane operators and their union launched a determined struggle in opposition including an entire week last June when they refused to report for work. They denounced the government for imposing changes that in essence are an attack on well-established methods of training to ensure the safety of all at a construction site including the public.

The crane operators articulated two main demands: the new regulation must be withdrawn and mandatory crane operator training be maintained and that a roundtable be created to include all concerned parties, including teachers, to look into the problems linked to the crane operator sector and general construction site safety.

Instead, the government set up what it called an Expert Panel on regulatory changes in crane operator training. The report submitted by the panel at the end of March does not start from the need for training to ensure safety. It starts from the premise of a skilled labour shortage which is precisely the pretext being used by the construction industry and government to lower training and safety standards.

The situation facing crane operators in Quebec is a good example of how what is called an expert panel is established to dismiss the workers' demand for the enforcement of regulations which stipulate proper safety training. It was established to overcome the fact that the workers would not accept the lower inadequate standards and that this issue is so serious they refused to work for a week to defend the proper system of training. It shows that today what are called expert panels are not trustworthy because the political aim tarnishes the integrity of the expertise called upon to adjudicate the process. 

The government must not be allowed to act against the wishes of those involved in construction work. Crane operators and other construction workers and their organizations must be in the forefront of all decision-making when it comes to safety and other concerns in their industry.[1]

Report of the Expert Panel

The panel of independent experts, appointed by the Quebec government to study from a safety perspective the new regulation on crane operator training released its report at the end of March. The new regulation was decreed by the Quebec government, at the request of the Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ) in April of 2018, without the approval of the crane operators who massively and publicly opposed it.[2] The government organized the panel of experts in the wake of the struggle of the crane operators to have the new regulation withdrawn.

In its report, the Expert Panel fails to mention that during the public hearings held in 2018, almost all participants took a firm stand against the new regulation, describing it as unsafe and in violation of the Canadian Standards Association's Z150 safety code that all Quebec crane workers fall under. The crane operators claim that the code specifies the safety requirements relating to mobile cranes so as to ensure the safety of workers and the public.

The report of the Expert Panel does not acknowledge the need for compulsory and enforceable regulations regarding the training of crane operators which must be the basis of legislation so as to actually ensure the security of the person and a construction site. Instead, by speaking of "guiding principles" as a frame of reference for its analysis and recommendations, the Export Panel justifies its recommendation that the Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS) that has been the required standard for crane operators, becomes a "reference" instead of a requirement.

For example, the panel notes that cranes are complex machines that are crucial to understand. It says understanding of the safe operation of these complex machines requires the mastery of basic theoretical and practical knowledge. But how does a new crane operator acquire this understanding and mastery without technical training and hands-on practical education that the DVS gives them?

The report says that instead of making the DVS compulsory, the DVS for new crane operators should become optional, exactly what the government wants. The course becomes a so-called reference with regard to the fundamental knowledge required for the trade. It remains the "preferred route" for acquiring the crane operator apprentice competency certificate but not a requirement.

In oblique language usually associated with "fine print," the report goes on to say that "irrespective of the route taken to apprenticeship, apprentice crane operators who take the accompanying qualification examination should have a professional background allowing them to have acquired knowledge, experience and comparable skills." (Emphasis added.) This is similar to saying; "irrespective of the route taken" to become a carpenter, electrician, doctor or engineer you should "have a professional background allowing you to have acquired knowledge, experience and comparable skills."

Can the Panel Be Considered Serious about Safety?

The panel is supposedly dealing with serious safety concerns that have a long history. How can the people and construction workers in particular take the wishy-washy words of the panel seriously? Its guiding principles lack consistency and firmness. They are detached from the concrete situation facing crane operators, construction workers and the public. Years of mounting disastrous accidents led to the introduction of mandatory professional crane operator training in the first place. Will workers and the public be safer if the DVS is no longer mandatory but reduced to a "reference"; reduced to something in the background perhaps trotted out now and again to hide the reality of a lack of training?

Lost will be the fact that the DVS came into being as a result of the many deaths besieging the trade. The compulsory training with competent instructors effectively reduced the number of fatalities and accidents that have taken place since its adoption twenty years ago. What possibly motivates the panel to write such irresponsible things such as "irrespective of the route taken to apprenticeship?" Could it be that the practical form of gaining access to an apprenticeship, the mandatory DVS, was and still is to avoid the deaths and accidents associated with the operation of mobile cranes but that something else altogether motivates its replacement such as the hysteria of the CCQ over a "labour shortage"?

The panel concludes that the company training program decreed by the Quebec government and the CCQ to replace the DVS is "insufficient" from the point of view of an apprenticeship and for new workers to grasp the basic concepts required for the safe operation of a crane. Does it then call for the DVS to continue as a proven training method? No, it proposes a wishy-washy amendment to the proposed government program in keeping with its wishy-washy basic consideration. The program would include a three-week initial training in a vocational training centre. It recommends that any further enrollment in the new on-site training be suspended until the three-week initial training period is implemented.

The panel begins from the point of view that the new regulation is here to stay. It recommends that in order to blunt the opposition a minor amendment should be included to make it appear as if the experts were serious about safety. The only thing the panel is serious about is to find a way to implement the dictate of the government and CCQ and undermine all opposition and serious discussion as to what is necessary to bring down and keep down the unacceptable toll of death and injury in the construction sector.

What Is Really Behind the Decision of the Government
and Its Panel of Experts?

Regarding a labour shortage, one fact well-known to all involved in the construction sector is that on a yearly basis, 14 per cent of workers leave construction work because the working conditions, including safety, are intolerable. The government and CCQ do not want an investigation as to why workers leave the industry and why the death and injury toll is so high. No, they simply want to relax the requirements for entry to the trade so that new bodies are available for hire regardless of their competency.

The panel's report does not start from the point of view of ensuring worker and public safety above all else. It does not start by involving the workers themselves and their organizations in recognizing the existing problems and examining how to change the conditions for the better. The panel is infused with the pragmatism of those who wield economic and political power. This pragmatism puts their company profit before all principles. This pragmatism does not include the rights of construction workers as inviolable, including their right to working and living conditions acceptable to themselves and to conditions within the construction sector acceptable to a civilized society.

Working people should redouble their support of the struggle of crane operators to ensure the safety of all in opposition to the intransigence and arrogance of the government and the big business interests it serves.


1. For reports on the struggle of crane operators in defence of their rights and the safety of all see:

- "Workers Call for Release of Report on Crane Operator Safety," Workers' Forum, March 7, 2019.
- "Crane Operators, Allies and Experts All Say No! to Irresponsible New Regulations," Workers' Forum, January 24, 2009.
- "Self-Serving and Twisted Logic and Actions of the Rulers," Pierre Chénier, Workers' Forum, July 19, 2018.
- "Recent Developments in Quebec Crane Operators' Fight for Their Rights," Workers' Forum, July 3, 2018.

2. The new regulation abolished the mandatory character of the Diploma of Vocational Studies of 870 hours of practical training within an educational setting to become a crane operator. Instead the diploma is now optional. A program of 150 hours has been introduced to be provided on site and under the responsibility of construction companies. The CCQ and the government also replaced the diploma with an 80-hour course for the operation of boom trucks with a maximum capacity of 30 tonnes. This type of boom truck is precisely the type of crane that overturns most frequently and causes the most damage.

This article was published in

Number 14 - April 18, 2019

Article Link:
Regulatory Changes in Quebec Crane Operator Training: Expert Panel Report Does Not Respect Safety Demands of Those Who Do the Work - Pierre Chénier


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