Crane Safety 101: A Guide For Crane Operators

These crane safety tips could save a life.

Without cranes, today’s massive construction projects wouldn’t happen. A crane’s ability to lift and move heavy loads makes it the keystone of a productive jobsite. But a crane and its load can be dangerous if not handled correctly, so crane safety precautions are a must.

Crane accident statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 297 crane-related deaths from 2011 to 2017 (the latest data available). That’s an average of 42 deaths per year. Common causes of crane fatalities are objects falling from the crane and electrocution.

Crane lifting safety tips

Follow these safe crane lifting practices to help ensure your next job doesn’t add to the crane accident statistics.

1. Wear PPE

All crew members should wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, such as a hard hat, safety glasses, ear protection, gloves and steel-toed boots.

2. Ensure the operator and crew are properly trained

Crane safety starts with well-trained personnel, from the crane operator to the hoisting and rigging crew. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the operator be trained, certified and evaluated to operate most types of cranes. They must know how to read and use load charts and the in-cab computerized Load Moment Indicator (LMI) system if the crane has one. Crews should be trained on inspections, rigging and signaling.

Training isn’t one-and-done. Staying current on training is one of the best ways an operator and crew can keep a crane operation safe.

3. Assess the site for hazards

Electrical power lines pose one of the greatest dangers to cranes. Mark a safe path near any active lines. Operators should maintain at least 10 feet of clearance between the crane’s working zone and power lines.

The ground underneath the crane should be stable, with no voids or depressions, and able to withstand the weight of the crane plus its load.

4. Post warning signs and hand signal illustrations

Post warning signs about crane activity in the crane's immediate operating area and along the crane's travel path. Post hand signal illustrations in a prominent location to assist the signal person (who is required to know the Standard Method for hand signals).

5. Perform a pre-operation inspection

The crane operator should inspect the crane and rigging equipment before making a lift. A pre-operation crane safety checklist can cover as many as 40 items but always includes these steps:

  • Walk around the crane and check for any obvious damage or excessive wear and tear to the frame, base, ropes, hook, wheels, tires, boom and rigging equipment.
  • Look under the crane and in hydraulic hose cabinets to check for leaks of engine oil or other fluids.
  • Check the battery, fuel and oil levels.
  • Make sure the engine is in good condition by starting the crane, checking the gauges and listening for unusual sounds such as screeching or grinding. Review the maintenance log to make sure the engine has been serviced on schedule.
  • Survey the cab for obvious signs of damage such as missing or damaged knobs or levers or broken gauges.
  • Ensure all communications equipment, controls and boom angle indicators are in working order.
  • Check safety devices and equipment including brakes, emergency stop switches, warning lights, handholds, steps, guard rails and fire extinguishers. (Check the extinguisher gauge and service date.)
  • Test all crane functions, including steering, drivability in all gears and boom angle and extension controls.

6. Stabilize the crane

The crane must be stabilized properly before operation to prevent it from tipping over. Follow the manufacturer guidelines for extending outriggers and using crane pads. Operators should make sure the correct blocking and cribbing is in place.

7. Rig each load correctly

When setting up a new load, consult the load chart, which specifies how much weight a crane can lift safely with the boom at any given angle. The operator and crew must understand and consider the load radius (the further away the load is from the center of the crane, the less weight the crane can safely lift). Inside the cab, the operator must ensure the LMI is calibrated correctly.

Choose the right sling for each lift, and secure any unused slings. A designated person other than the crane operator must consistently monitor the load during the lift.

8. Use hand signals when necessary

OSHA requires that a trained signal person be provided if the point of operation is not in full view of the operator, if the view in the direction the crane is traveling is obstructed or if specific safety concerns make a signal person necessary. The signal person should communicate with the operator throughout the lift.

For more information about safety precautions for crane lifting, check out these resources:

Securing cranes in high winds

Operators should remain aware of weather and wind conditions. High winds can reduce the clearance between power lines and cranes, cause loads to swing dangerously or even topple the crane.

The most critical step in securing a crane ahead of high winds is understanding the wind speed the crane is manufactured to withstand. Operators should follow manufacturers' instructions for model-specific wind tolerances and know how to lower booms safely and put the crane out of operation when the wind picks up.

Bolts should be checked and tightened as needed, power cables secured, and any advertising banners removed, along with any loose items on top of the crane, such as tools.

For some crane models, manufacturers recommend the crane be entirely secured and lowered by a certain number of tower sections in high winds. If there’s not enough time to lower the crane, weathervaning may be the best option, depending on the crane. In weathervaning, or free slewing, the swing brake is released so the boom can spin freely on its turntable. This allows the boom to move with the wind instead of fighting against it.

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