Most, if not all, crane accidents are preventable.
Crane accidents have caused enough headline-grabbing injuries and fatalities in recent years that cranes have become associated with disaster in the public mind. But most if not all of these accidents are preventable.
"A few things always ring true when it comes to crane safety," said Stever Frein, lead NCCCO mobile/tower crane instructor at West Coast Training in Woodland, Washington — notably, that accidents typically result from one of the following three factors.
Operator error plays a major role in crane accidents, and having qualified operators is one of the main ways to prevent them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is scheduled to implement a new crane standard in November 2017 that requires most operators to be certified.
One of the most important actions operators can take to ensure safety, said Frein, is to inspect crane and rigging equipment — the system that supports the loading and movement of material — before making a lift. This includes giving the crane's rope system, hooks, slings, wheels, bearings and other parts the once-over.
Frein said operators should also know how to read and understand load charts, which specify how much weight cranes can lift safely with the boom at any given angle.
Improper crane setup
Another critical element of safe crane operation, Frein said, is proper setup. The ground underneath the crane should be stable and able to withstand the weight of the crane plus any loads. Operators should make sure the correct blocking and cribbing is in place, as well as the correct size of outrigger and crane pads.
Inside the cab, Frein said, the operator must ensure that the load moment indicator (LMI), which monitors real-time information about boom angle, load weight and other critical metrics, is calibrated correctly.
Failure to assess the site for hazards
Failure to assess the site for potential hazards is another way crane operators put people (themselves and others) at risk. Frein said electrical power lines pose one of the greatest dangers to cranes. Marking a safe path near active lines, operating the crane more slowly when near them and keeping nonessential workers away during those operations are smart safety measures.
High winds can reduce the clearance between power lines and cranes, cause loads to swing dangerously or even topple the crane. Operators should look to manufacturers' instructions for model-specific wind tolerances and know how to lower booms safely and put the crane out of operation.
Without the lifting and carrying abilities of cranes, today's massive construction projects would be nonstarters. But using them improperly can result in the tragic loss of life, which makes safety training and operational know-how as essential as the machines themselves.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.