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Crane Licence & Training Information

Advice on what licence you need to operate particular cranes, what training you can take and what the working enviroment will be like if you choose to pursue a career in crane operation.

To drive any kind of crane on the road you need a drivers licence. The type of mobile crane you can drive on the road is dictated by its weight.

To drive a mobile crane weighing between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes a Category C1 Driving Licence is required and a Category C Licence if the crane is over 7.5 tonnes.

If you intend to use a crane on the public highway in the UK you will need to apply to the local council for a separate crane licence, or crane operators licence, in the area where you intend to operate. This licence is divided into two categories. The Minor Crane Operations Licence is for the short term use of smaller lifting platforms and cherry pickers. The Standard Crane Operations Licence covers all larger jobs.

Applications can be made to the relevant council and a fee will be payable. There is no standard fee for this and it will vary from council to council. To operate a crane on a site you do not necessarily need a drivers licence though you will need adequate crane operator training. The industry standard qualifications and certificates are provided by the CITB.

Entry routes

No specific academic qualifications are required, although GCSEs (A*-E) in English, maths and technology can be helpful. The Diploma in construction and the built environment can also provide a relevant introduction to the sector.

Most entrants begin their career through the ConstructionSkills crane operative Apprenticeship, which requires a pre-entry test. Training can start aged 16, but to drive and operate a mobile crane, a full driving licence is required and operators need to be at least 18 years old.

Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week.


Apprentice crane operators spend 12 weeks on block release at the National Construction College (NCC) East during the first year of their two-year Plant Apprenticeship: crane operation training programme. The rest of time is spent on site, gaining practical work experience.

During training, apprentices are taught how to operate a variety of cranes safely and efficiently and basic maintenance and risk assessment checks. They also work towards recognised certification/qualifications including:

• NVQ Level 2 in plant operations (construction)
• functional Skills Level 1 (application of numbers and communication)
• Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) Technical Test, a practical test of ability and a theory test
• Construction Skills Health and Safety Test.

All crane operators must have a CPCS card, proving they are competent to work on site. During their Apprenticeship, they qualify for the CPCS Blue ’Competent Operator’ card. Applicants must pass the CPCS Technical Test and Health and Safety Test and have the relevant NVQ Level 2. Blue cards are renewed every five years.

Legally, employers in every industry sector need to ensure crane operators have job-specific health and safety training. Those who transport cranes between sites need a large goods vehicle (LGV) category C licence.

To aid progression, it is possible to take an NVQ Level 3 in construction plant and equipment supervision.

What is the work like?

Crane operators mainly work in construction and engineering, lifting and moving heavy loads, such as building materials, tools and equipment.

Based inside the crane cab, operators take instructions from an assistant on the ground, called a slinger or signaller. Directed via radio communications or by visually observing their hand signals, the crane operator will operate levers and controls, accurately positioning the hook, grab arm or hoist to load/unload items.

Precision is essential. Crane operators must follow strict safety procedures, protecting people working around them. They must constantly be aware of:

• The cranes’ stability limits and safe working loads (SWLs), making sure they are never exceeded
• Weather conditions and the cranes’ wind resistance
• Rotential dangers of surrounding obstacles, such as power lines, trees and buildings.

Operators may work different types of cranes, including:

• Mobile cranes which are transported to sites, often along public roads. Crawler cranes can move around construction sites and sometimes over rough terrain.
• Overhead cranes on rails which are often found in factories, metal foundries and works, power stations, ship building yards, passenger ports and commercial docks and workshops.
• Tower cranes (up to heights of 750 metres or more) and small fixed cranes which are used for special projects and are found on larger construction developments.
• Lorry loaders which are employed to load and unload lorries.
• They may also be involved in the erection and dismantling of modular and portable buildings.

Mobile crane operators are usually responsible for:

• Transporting cranes to the site and setting them up
• Checking all the equipment is working safely and effectively every time the crane is used
• Conducting routine maintenance and mechanical inspections
• Making the crane safe at the end of each day
• De-rigging or removing the crane if no longer required.

Tower and overhead crane operators do not have the responsibility for erecting and dismantling their cranes. This is carried out by a specialist group of crane installers.

Crane operators can also work in the media and music industries, controlling cranes carrying heavy camera equipment and camera operators around film and stage sets. This can include steering remote heads above locations on a high-tech Strada crane, capturing a bird’s-eye view of the action.

Hours and environment

Crane operators usually work Monday to Friday. The work can be changeable, with more jobs, overtime and weekend opportunities available during spring and summer months. It can involve early mornings and late finishes.

Mobile crane operators often have to travel to different sites, sometimes locally, but potentially throughout the UK. Some crane operators are self-employed. Short-term contracts and part-time opportunities are also available.

Although operators work inside the crane cab, they are exposed to varied weather conditions and temperatures. Operators generally work alone in the cab, but are in regular contact with construction groundworkers and site supervisors.

Crane operators need to be physically fit to climb up to thier cabs. In some cases this might be several hundred feet. It can be noisy, dusty and muddy. Good eyesight and hearing are essential. Operators are required to wear personal protective equipment, including safety helmets, footwear and ear protectors.

Crane operators in the media sector are usually freelance, often working with camera equipment facility houses. Work on commercials, feature films and television programmes may involve travel abroad.

Salary and other benefits

Rates of pay vary, depending on the employer, location and type of work you are doing. Below is a round-up of the estimated pay you could recieve:

• Crane operators may start on around £375 a week, equivalent to £19,500 a year.
• With experience, salaries average around £30,000, rising to around £39,500 a year for a tower crane operator.
• Operators of special types of crane and equipment may earn up to £50,000 annually.

The Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) establishes minimum wage rates annually. Overtime payments are common and lodging allowances are provided if working away from home.

Skills and personal qualities

Crane operators should have:

• Good practical skills
• A responsible attitude, especially to health and safety
• High levels of alertness and concentration
• Excellent judgement, co-ordination and spatial awareness
• Steady hands
• Stamina and agility for climbing up to crane cabs
• A good head for heights
• Good eyesight and hearing
• Strong teamwork skills, but equal ability to work independently
• Excellent communication skills
• A basic knowledge of vehicle mechanics.


It is important for crane operators to enjoy:

• Hands-on work
• Working in busy construction or engineering environments.

Getting in

There are around 10,000 crane operators in UK employment. Cranes are used in many UK industries, and jobs exist with:

• Crane hire companies
• Large building construction or civil engineering companies
• Demolition firms
• Manufacturing plants
• Docks and harbours
• Local authorities
• Energy utility companies, including gas, electricity or water.

Some large contractors sub-contract work to smaller firms. There are jobs throughout the UK for construction crane operators, particularly in urban development areas. Employment opportunities fluctuate with the economy. Industrial areas, ports and docks in the Midlands, North East and North West tend to provide more employment for operators engaged in engineering work.

Getting on

There are many different types of cranes used for many different tasks. Learning the techniques to operate one particular type of crane may eventually lead to specialist roles in sectors such as the oil industry or marine engineering.

With further training and qualifications, experienced crane operators may progress to become construction or engineering site supervisors or managers

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