Avoid costly accidents and dangerous environments when working with cranes.
by Kirk Ward

More than 125,000 cranes are estimated to be operating in the United States construction industry. Cranes are typically the biggest and most complicated pieces of equipment on construction sites, and as such, they must be used with a great degree of planning and caution to avoid property damage, bodily injury and death.

Most accidents don’t just happen. They are often the result of a string of events including mistakes, oversight and mechanical failure. The only way to eliminate crane-related accidents is to examine the many safety considerations of every lift in a planned and thoughtful way.

Consider these factors: possessing a lack of experience, rushing to finish the day’s work, getting pressure from other trades on the job, having no supervisor in sight, relying too heavily on the crane’s computer, overriding the computer and not paying attention to signalpersons. These can all contribute to accidents, the consequences of which can be great. Studies have indicated that the majority of crane accidents are non-fatal, and the majority of the injured are not crane operators but other workers, but such accidents can easily result in missed workdays, rising insurance rates, OSHA fines, litigation costs and lost business.

Though improved crane technology over the past few decades has had a positive impact on safety, issues can still arise for the operators of the equipment and for other workers in the vicinity. Exacting safety planning should be an integral part of every lift, including rigorous and mandatory safety training and extensive workplace precautions. Here are five essentials for preventing crane accidents:

Assess the potential for a crane incident to occur. Ensure that the site is adequately prepared for lifting operations and that hazards have been identified (proper soil preparation, adequate room to assemble and disassemble the crane, assessment of danger from power lines and underground pipelines, etc.).

Establish a crane safety plan for each lift. Assign responsibility to implement the safety plan. Ensure that the crane has the correct capacity for the job and that equipment has been maintained and inspected according to manufacturers’ specifications. All personnel involved in the lift should be properly trained and should understand their roles regarding the lift.

Assign a competent person to oversee crane operations, with authority to stop unsafe operations. As defined by OSHA, a competent person, through training, qualification and experience, has knowledge of applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, is designated by the employer and has authority to take appropriate actions to ensure that a safe jobsite is maintained.

Utilize qualified operators, signalpersons and riggers. The crane operator must be capable of running the crane and be competent with load charts, pre-job inspection routines and setup. The load must be properly rigged and inspected before the lift. The proper signaling method (i.e., hand, radio, etc.) must be established. Additionally, per OSHA regulation, all lifts require a qualified signalperson (see regulation 29 CFR 1926.1428). A good source for signalperson training information can be found on the website for the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators at www.nccco.org.

Train ancillary workers in safe crane operation. All personnel involved in the vicinity of the lift must be adequately trained in safe lifting operations. Everyone responsible for maintenance, repair or assembly of the crane should have received the necessary training and be competent to perform these tasks.

Develop Safety Programs
For crane rental companies, the importance of developing and enforcing a comprehensive company-wide safety program cannot be emphasized too much. Not only must these companies maintain a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, but they must also make jobsite safety and the safety of the public in proximate areas a priority, a shared goal and a responsibility among all parties involved.

A mandatory equipment and jobsite safety program for operators, mechanics, lift planners and managers should consist of ongoing classroom training as well as practical, hands-on experience. The program must also cover any issues pertinent to standard safety regulations.

It takes time and diligence to establish a company safety policy and provide the training and monitoring required to implement it.

Establish Accountability
Everyone on a construction site has a stake in and a personal responsibility for safety. That said, construction companies with good safety records usually have a dedicated safety director with a documented safety background. Among the safety director’s duties are to identify potential hazards and then oversee, conduct or arrange processes that eliminate or mitigate these hazards, which would include writing policies and procedures and ensuring that relevant safety training is provided for all affected employees.

Safety training can be provided using in-house trainers and programs covering a wide range of regulation-based requirements, or it can be designed to address areas of concern, unique situations or topics in the safety manual. Often, training can be conducted by a third-party provider (i.e., consultant, insurance company, etc.) or presented by a crane manufacturer’s representative. Always remember to document your training sessions, be it a five-minute toolbox talk or an eight-hour formal training class.

Implement a Review Process
Safety is a process—ongoing and constantly evolving. Therefore, construction safety practices should also evolve and be subject to regular review. Training methods, use of personal protective equipment and work processes may undergo change in order to maintain an optimal level of safety in everyday work environments.

Choose Carefully
Finally, choosing the right crane rental company is paramount. Make sure you choose a company that not only offers a wide range of cranes but that has the expertise to recommend the correct type and capacity of crane for your job. Using the wrong crane or the wrong configuration can bring unintended and serious consequences. Ask the crane rental provider about the maintenance of its fleet so you are sure you’re renting technically sound and safe equipment. Establishing trust with your crane rental partner allows open communication about the safety of the crew, the customer’s project and the jobsite.  

Three Important Standards
Any construction company working with cranes should understand the industry standards for crane safety.

Here are three particularly important standards:

OSHA Cranes and Derricks in Construction 1926 Subpart CC
OSHA’s 1926 Subpart CC standard is a comprehensive set of guidelines for crane and derrick use in construction applications.
For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

ASME B30.5 Mobile and Locomotive Crane Standards
This ASME guideline establishes the standard for construction, inspection, testing, maintenance and operation of a variety of crane types with internal combustion engines or electric motors.
For more information, visit www.asme.org.

ANSI/ASSE: A10.42-2000 (R2010) Safety Requirements
for Rigging Qualifications and Responsibilities in the Construction Industry
These guidelines from the American National Standards Institute set minimum requirements regarding knowledge and performance for riggers in the construction industry.
For more information, visit www.ansi.org.