Cranes are extremely powerful devices that can be used to lift heavy loads on construction sites. However, cranes are also potential hazards as both the cranes themselves and the loads they carry can cause damage if improperly handled.

From 2011 to 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 297 deaths from cranes. More than half of these deaths were from workers being hit by objects or equipment, and over 20 percent were from the crane operator. These statistics highlight the need for crane safety at all stages of operation, including driving, erecting, setting up and lifting.

Below are 11 crane safety tips, including information on:

  • Guidelines for crane travel
  • Memories of setting up the crane
  • Tips for upgrading the crane
  • Safe lifting suggestions

1. Choose the right crane for the job

Ensuring safe crane operation starts with choosing the right crane. Cranes are either mobile or fixed, with fixed cranes generally used in industrial settings or on complex or tall construction projects.

There are many versions of mobile cranes. Therefore, choose the right crane for the respective location.

  • Support crane: These highly mobile cranes are easy to set up and turn, but do not handle rough terrain well.
  • Crawler Crane: They use chains instead of rubber wheels, which makes crawler cranes great for locations with soft terrain.
  • Rough Terrain Crane: Although these cranes cannot travel on public roads, they can handle difficult inclines and difficult terrain on the construction site.
  • Rough terrain crane: These versatile cranes have the advantage that they can drive to construction sites independently and tackle rough terrain on arrival.

2. Always use qualified personnel

The safe operation of cranes requires trained personnel for the setup, assembly, signaling and operation. The health and safety authority (OSHA) has regulations according to which only trained, certified and properly assessed persons are allowed to operate cranes on construction sites. Ensure that all regulations are followed to ensure that qualified personnel are used to operate cranes at all times.

3. Read the instruction manuals

Even if you employ qualified personnel, it is important to remember that cranes from different manufacturers have unique controls, fail-safe devices and functions. Anyone who operates or works with cranes should have a detailed understanding of the crane they are using. The operating instructions contain important information about:

  • Load capacities
  • Security mechanisms
  • Stabilizers and counterweights
  • Controls

It is imperative that you read the operating instructions completely before starting up a crane.

4. Perform daily operator checks

A crane operator must use a daily checklist to ensure that the crane is safe before operating. These checks include pre-start checks, engine start checks, and safety system checks.

  • Pre-Start Checks: Before starting the crane, the driver should check the tire condition, oil level, seat belts, air reservoir and battery, among other things.
  • Engine Start Checks: Before starting daily work, the operator should start the engine, check the pressure gauge, fuel level, turn signals, horn, suspension and brain system, among other things.
  • Safety system audits: Above all, safety system audits should be carried out to avoid catastrophic accidents. Make sure you rate the anti-two block, rated capacity limiter, and outriggers.

In addition, operators perform a series of hydraulic system checks. For a specific list of tasks, see your site’s daily operator checklist.

5. Avoid or remove obstacles while driving

Before traveling by crane, it is important that a route is planned and cleared of all obstacles. Hazards that cannot be moved, such as power lines or other permanent features, should be avoided and the operator should keep a safe distance at all times. For example, regulations mandate that cranes be kept at least 10 feet from power lines up to 50,000 volts.

A signal person should always guide the crane while it is in motion and alert the crane operator to possible dangers and warn other employees on site of the crane’s movement.

6. Carefully stabilize the crane before upgrading

Mobile cranes use jibs or other stabilization features to prevent the crane from tipping over during operation. When stabilizing the crane, note the following:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to determine how far out booms to extend.
  • Always use boom pads or crane pads under the booms.
  • Never place outriggers over voids, depressions, or unstable ground.

Many crane accidents and tipping are due to improper boom setup. So make sure you have made a solid safety assessment of the boom placement.

7. Set up the load properly

Properly assembling the loads will prevent objects from falling and potentially hitting workers on the job site. When upgrading a load, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Attachment: There are several ways to attach slings to a load. Therefore, take into account the object to be lifted and the weight distribution of the object. Basket coupling and collar coupling are two of the most common coupling configurations.
  • Sling Angle: Whenever an angle other than vertical is used, additional forces are exerted on the slings, reducing their overall weight. Make sure you use slings that are suitable not only for the weight but also for the weight at a certain angle.

A thorough understanding of force, weight distribution and rigging techniques ensures a safe and stable lift even with the most irregular and heavy loads.

8. Understand the load radius

In order to operate a crane safely, it is important to understand how a crane works and what forces act against it. One of the most important concepts to understand is the load radius, which basically states that the further the load is from the center of the crane, the less weight the crane can support without tipping over or collapsing.

The load radius is influenced by the angle of the boom and the length of the extensions of a telescopic crane. When the angle of the boom is higher (more towards the sky), the load is closer to the centerline of the crane and the boom can carry more weight. When the angle of the boom is smaller (closer to the ground), the load is further from the centerline and the boom can support less weight.

9. Pay attention to the load limits

Although many modern cranes include load moment indicators and rated capacity limiters, crane operators should still know how to read load charts to prepare for a safe elevator. When reading load diagrams to determine if an elevator is safe, keep the following in mind:

  • On rubber vs. boom: A crane can hold a lot more weight when on booms than on tires alone, and the load chart has several columns to illustrate this.
  • Rotation: A crane can hold more weight if the boom stays above the front of the crane for the entire lift, while the capacity is much less if the boom has to swing. Therefore, pay attention to the right column.
  • Load radius: the higher the load radius, the less weight the crane can lift. Load charts usually don’t cover every possible radius. So always refer to the next higher radius to ensure you stay within safe limits.

Load diagrams are the primary tool for planning a safe elevator and preventing crane failure or tipping over.

10. Use proper communication and hand signals

There is a standard set of hand signals and communication protocols to facilitate the safe operation of cranes. A qualified signal person is able to effectively transmit information about the entire elevator to a crane operator, who can therefore adapt to changes in the elevator situation as soon as they occur.

By learning the standard hand signals, you can convey the following to a crane operator:

  • Which direction to go with the crane
  • When does the boom have to be swiveled and raised?
  • When does the load need to be raised and lowered?
  • When should the crane be stopped?

In addition to hand signals, radio devices are also used in crane operation to ensure constant communication.

11. Manage complex elevators

Complex elevators are all elevators that require loads of more than 80 percent of the crane capacity or more than 50 percent of the crane capacity for elevators on ships. A complex elevator plan is imperative for such a scenario as these represent the greatest risk of tipping over or equipment failure. Develop a comprehensive plan, follow it closely and monitor the situation for any necessary adjustments during the elevator.