For the untrained eye, cranes do all the hard work as they lift significant amounts of material over the course of a day. However, if you take a closer look, you will see the really heavy lifters – the people behind the cranes.
Before crane operators can even operate a machine, they must go through a rigorous certification process that imparts knowledge, industry best practices, and key skills. Before a crane operator can be classified as certified, however, he must receive special training in operating a crane in accordance with the final rule adopted by the OSHA.
This training process is specifically tailored to the machine model the worker will be operating. Even the best trained personnel must be aware of the extenuating circumstances involved in operating a crane. Put simply, overlook a small factor can result in fatal injury.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Fatal Work Accident Census recorded 297 crane-related deaths over a seven-year period. These deaths could have been avoided if certain factors had been monitored more closely.
Here is a list of seven factors crane operators should consider before and during crane operations:
1. Check the equipment and cargo for signs of wear
Before entering the crane’s cab, the machine and its load must be checked for visible signs of wear. For example, chain links are one of the most recognizable places for deterioration over time due to the force they withstand.
In addition, both internal and external cranes must be checked for rust and corrosion. This factor should be addressed often to avoid replacing the entire crane.
Other important aspects that need to be checked:
- Stabilizers, sliders and booms
- Main boom
- Lattice boom extensions
- Safety equipments
For a more complete list of preventive expectations, see the Crane Preventive Maintenance Checklist.
If parts are found to be in sub-optimal condition, the damaged crane parts must be taken out of service and repaired or replaced. Checking this before operating the crane will help prevent accidents from faulty parts.
2. Make sure the ground workers are not working
As soon as the crane has been checked and has been given the green light, the crane operators can start up the machine. However, you need to check your surroundings and make sure that all workers on the job site are out of the range of the crane.
This is a problem that often needs to be re-addressed to ensure that all on-site employees are actively involved in maintaining a safe distance. In the same study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the reported injuries were to a worker who was hit by an object or equipment.
If both the crane operator and the construction site personnel consciously avoid accidents of this type, these types of accidents can be reduced and not completely eliminated.
3. Watch out for unsafe loads
In addition to taking into account the employees involved in crane operation, the loads should be continuously monitored. In the past there have been cases when loads were not completely safe, resulting in breakdowns in construction. Since loads are typically extremely heavy, slippage can cause extreme damage, including death.
For safety reasons, the loads as well as the slings and attachments should be continuously monitored. It is always better to check a safe load than to miss an unsafe load. In this case, it pays to be careful.
There are three reasons for unsafe loads:
- Equipment wear and tear (see step 1)
- Improper loading
- Mechanical disturbances
4. Crane hand signals
While working, crane operators must recognize hand signals instructing them to move the boom and raise, lower and move the load horizontally. In some cases, hand signals instruct the crane operator to stop the crane in action.
Check out this video for some advanced crane signal hand signals.
Cover hand signals:
- Stop signals
- Boom and load signals
- Driving signals
It is important that the crane operator not only knows the hand signals, but is always on the lookout for them. If a crane operator misses a signal such as an emergency stop, it can be detrimental to the project, equipment and employees.
5. Watch out for electrical hazards, scaffolding, and overhanging branches
As many know, avoiding electrical hazards in the field is an extremely important factor. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to watch out for them as power lines and other dangers are often out of sight.
Contact with power lines is one of the most common hazards on a construction site and accounts for 50 percent of crane accidents, according to OSHA. Some of the hazards associated with power lines include extremely high voltages, burns, and falls from electric shock.
Other electrical hazards arise from a lack of access to the ground, misuse of equipment, misuse of extensions and flexible cables, and lack of earth fault protection.
According to OSHA, there are several ways to avoid electrical hazards. Some include:
- Looking for overhead lines and buried power line displays
- Contact the utility companies to find buried power lines
- Mark all electrical hazards and watch out for markings
- Maintain a distance of 10 feet from overhead lines
- Turn off and ground power lines, power systems, circuits, and electrical equipment
- Use of earth fault switching interpreters
When locating power lines, examine the area for other potential hazards, including but not limited to scaffolding and overhanging junctions. Unlike power lines, there is no electrical current. However, encountering these objects can endanger the safety of the crew, equipment, and the construction site.
6. Pay attention to the weather
In contrast to working indoors, crane operators, supervisors and managers need to know the outside conditions. These conditions, while not worrying a simple pedestrian, can affect the operation of a crane.
Due to the height of some cranes, heavy rain and wind can cause accidents. This is something that contractors need to be aware of before they start planning a project. By pre-determining the additional time, you can make confident decisions based on unforeseen weather delays.
In strong winds, it is best to be careful to avoid a disaster with tilted equipment or other dangerous consequences.
Watch the Sims Crane Minute lift in bad weather for a detailed idea of the impact the weather has on crane operations.
7. Watch out for unstable ground and obstacles
When setting up the equipment, pay attention to the ground you will be working on. It is important to recognize these factors early and avoid placing a crane on uneven ground to avoid worry and mistakes on the road.
Other factors to consider are trenches and demolitions on the construction site. Having an overview of the area and writing things down before starting the project can help you create a game plan for safe crane operations. Operators and site workers can mark hazard zones as reference throughout the project.
As mentioned earlier, paying attention to the weather is extremely important. Heavy rains, runoffs and other environmental factors cause soil wear and tear. What appears to be stable ground one day may be unstable the next day due to these conditions. For example, rain can dampen the ground and sink equipment in certain areas, creating instability.