The old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” is true for many managers and supervisors when it comes to crane operations. If a worker has never attended mobile crane operator training or had any hands-on exposure, chances are their mobile crane knowledge is limited. Site management doesn’t have to know everything, especially when an experienced operator is in charge. However, abdicating responsibility in the hope that others will watch out for the company’s best interest may not be the wisest choice either.
Laws & Regulations
In construction, the use of cranes is regulated under OSHA 1926, Subpart CC. This regulation was updated in 2010 and details the responsibilities with respect to crane safety. Beyond what OSHA provides, there are many national consensus standards that have the full force of the law. Therefore, it’s not enough to just know the OSHA regulations. The supervisor must also have knowledge of applicable standards that govern the use and safety of cranes, such as several from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The most important ones include: ASME B30.5 Mobile and Locomotive Cranes, ASME B30.23 Personnel Lifting Systems, ASME B30.10 Hooks, ASME B30.9 Slings and ASME P30.1 Planning for Load Handling Activities. Certain states also have regulations that are more restrictive than federal laws, and supervisors must be fully versed on every rule that governs crane operations in the state in which they are working.
Load Rating Charts
Evolution has impacted how cranes react when overloaded. Unlike their previous counterparts, when tipping up slightly provided a warning of overload, modern cranes can fail structurally with little or no evidence of tipping. It’s common for a supervisor to ask the crane operator if the crane can handle the load, but they typically will not ask for any detail because they do not have enough understanding to evaluate the response. The person responsible for lifting operations should have a thorough understanding of how to calculate capacity and have a working knowledge of load charts, range diagrams and quadrants of operation. Knowing how to use these basic elements to validate an operator’s response can go a long way in creating a safer jobsite.
From equipment modifications all the way through the annual inspection to wire rope inspection criteria, supervisors should have knowledge of the different inspections required to keep a crane in safe working condition, according to OSHA Subpart CC 1926.1412 and 1926.1413. For example:
- A post-assembly inspection goes beyond the crane’s initial assembly. It is also required when equipment is modified, such as when a jib is installed. A qualified person must ensure that all assembly is done per the manufacturer’s specifications.
- When looking at the operator’s shift inspection requirements, it’s not enough for an operator to walk around the machine and then go to work. Operators should conduct function checks of all operational modes and safety devices, and the shift inspection should be a continual action that carries on throughout the shift.
- The annual/comprehensive inspection is where any item that has previously evaded the shift or monthly inspection should be discovered.
Management should consider the experience level of those conducting this task and focus on having a comprehensive inspection. A little extra focus now can save lots down the road.
Safety Devices & Operational Aids
Supervisors should understand safety devices and operational aids as outlined in OSHA Subpart CC 1926.1415 and 1926.1416. There are seven safety devices, such as the crane level indicator and horn, where operations must not begin unless all of the devices are in proper working order. Safety devices should not be confused with operational aids, such as the load moment indicator (LMI), which if not operating properly, allow for temporary, alternative methods while being repaired.
Site Conditions & Crane Setup
Planning for the arrival of the crane should be considered early in the process, with re-checks as a site changes during construction. Consider questions such as:
- Can I drive the crane onto the site?
- Is there clearance from powerlines, structures and underground utilities?
- What is the terrain and grade?
- Is there a ramp that must be negotiated?
- As the crane is being set up, is there adequate ground support?
- What are the soil conditions?
- Where are the utilities?
- Are there structures in the way that could present crushing hazards?
- Is there pedestrian traffic or other workers on the site that will be in danger during operation?
A large percentage of crane accidents are the result of improper crane setup, and many of these are due to improper or inadequate outrigger support. Outrigger beams should only be extended and set to correspond to manufacturer specifications—place a beam at the wrong length and it may collapse. Knowing how to calculate the amount of weight exerted onto the ground and determine the size pads, mats and cribbing needed is a key skill.
Power Line Safety
1926 Subpart CC outlines requirements and responsibilities for cranes working, traveling and being assembled and disassembled near powerlines in five sections of the standard. Refer to it often, plan work accordingly and put it into practice to keep workers safe. Beyond following these regulations, there are important lessons that should be taught in order to protect employees. The first is “look up and live.” Instill this as a first thought in each individual on the jobsite. Should a coworker fall to the ground unexpectedly, before running to their aid, freeze in place and look up. Check for overhead lines or nearby equipment that could have become electrified, as the ground may be energized, and any worker could be the next victim. Also, do not lean on or touch equipment unnecessarily. This simple habit can save anyone touching equipment from becoming energized or severely or fatally injured.
If you are handling irreplaceable loads that, if damaged, could create long job delays or anything that you believe needs special scrutiny, you should build greater safety and reliability into the job by taking the time to develop a lift plan. Critical lift plans must become a part of every lift that involves personnel lifting, multiple crane lifts, lifts that exceed 75 to 80 percent of the crane’s rating and anything that has the potential to endanger other personnel at the site. Regardless of the type of lift, it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes understanding exactly where the load will be lifted, who will act as the signal person, rigger and spotter and where the load will be landed.
Managers and supervisors who proactively take the time to educate themselves on basic mobile crane operations are empowered to resolve issues as they arise and keep sites safer.