Industrial Safety Management: Making Cranes an Asset, Not a Liability
Cranes are an essential component in the machinery of modern business. Many operations make use of them directly; many others rely on them indirectly for material production and transportation. Their ability to lift exceptional loads using the efforts of only a few employees makes them truly indispensable. With that said, though, they can be the source of serious and fatal injuries, which are made all the more tragic because they could have been prevented with proper industrial safety management. Many are the result of hazards that are alarmingly common, and are worth discussing. We won’t attempt to cover every potential hazard, because they are far too numerous. Instead, we will focus on some that are common to multiple types of cranes, such as mobile, overhead, and gantry cranes.
Potential Hazards When Working with Industrial Cranes
Overloading is a hazard that is far too common in crane operations. One would think that having the load capacity labeled on the crane would be more than enough to prevent employees from overloading a crane, but unfortunately, it is not. Far too many employees have the misconception that crane load ratings have a significant safety factor manufactured into them, which they believe far exceeds the labeled load capacity. Based on this, some employees then intentionally overload the crane’s rating and rely on their concepts of how much weight the crane can handle. Many times they are lucky and no incident occurs; however, it is only a matter of time before one does. Intentional overloading is not the only issue, though. If the load rating label becomes illegible over time, employees might “estimate” the rating based on similar cranes that they’ve used. This is not a number that employees should be guessing. Overloading isn’t always intentional, either. Sometimes the rigging has a different rating than the crane itself. (Rigging, such as wire rope, synthetic slings, shackles, etc. should be selected based on the weight of the load being lifted.) Other times, employees might overload a crane because they try to move materials received from vendors or shippers without verifying the weight of the load first. All they see is a conveniently bundled package of materials that needs to be moved, and think that it makes more sense to move the materials first and unbundle them later. This can be particularly dangerous with deceptively heavy bundles of smaller materials. Whether it is done intentionally or not, the hazards of an overloaded crane are significant.
Employees working under or too close to loads presents another set of hazards. They can be struck by objects falling from loads or by the loads themselves. Either scenario can cause serious injuries, and incidents involving an entire load falling on an employee are often fatal. So why would they put themselves in such a precarious position? For some, it is a result of ignorance because they have not been trained on the hazards of working near cranes. There are others who have been trained, but believe that built in safety precautions, such as secondary braking mechanisms, make it safe to work under loads. These individuals have stretched a little knowledge a long way, believing that the braking mechanism will prevent the load from falling on them. They don’t understand that most of these mechanisms only control the rate that the load falls, but that it will still fall.
Not all hazards are related to the loads, though. Electrical hazards, for example, are another source of common, serious, and often fatal injuries. The most obvious hazard comes from operating cranes too close to powerlines, which is why there are very specific requirements on minimum distances that must be maintained. These incidents do not only happen outside, though. Even overhead and gantry cranes used solely indoors can expose workers to these hazards. They might contact exposed wiring that was never properly covered or that may have been previously damaged. That current can run right through the frames of the cranes, electrocuting anyone unlucky enough to be in contact with the crane at that moment. Other machinery could also become damaged and conduct electricity, with terrifying repercussions should an employee be in contact with the crane when it contacts the other machinery.
One final hazard that is worth noting is equipment failure. While cranes are manufactured to be incredibly sturdy to hold up to the operations they perform, they still make use of many components that are susceptible to wear and tear, as well as damage from improper use. Regardless of the source, if these components are damaged, the integrity of the entire crane can be compromised. Equipment failure can cause a crane to collapse, rigging can snap and drop loads, components can break and fall from the crane, and damaged wiring can present electrocution hazards, to name but a few perilous predicaments. In short, a plethora of problems that could have been avoided.
Using Industrial Safety Management to Mitigate Crane Accidents
Fortunately, these scenarios are all preventable. Not one of these issues is beyond the scope of an effective crane safety plan comprised of proper procedures that are consistently evaluated and enforced. Consider how many of these hazards can be prevented through an industrial safety management plan that includes training for all affected employees, and not just the operators. While developing such a plan and training program might require investing a lot of time and many resources into it, the dividends from such a program in terms of worker safety and productivity can be even more substantial. In the meantime, implementing and enforcing some industry best practices can go a long way towards developing an effective safety plan. Some of those best practices include:
- Ensure that trained and competent personnel assess the hazards of the environment. A large number of injuries and incidents can be prevented from being aware of environmental hazards. This includes being aware of work being done in areas where loads could be moved above workers. That work can then be postponed, or alternate routes for hoisting materials can be identified. Electrical hazards can also be found this way, which also would allow for operations to be moved, machinery and equipment to be de-energized, or additional precautions to be enacted to prevent electrocution injuries.
- Perform and document daily and routine inspections. Damaged or compromised components can be found and repaired before an incident occurs. Just because a crane worked well yesterday does not guarantee that it is undamaged and will work well today. There are only two ways to know for sure that the crane and its components are in good condition – inspect it before every use to ensure that it is safe to use, or find out after something breaks and an incident occurs. The former is obviously preferable.
- Perform trial lifts. Short, controlled lifts that ensure the stability of the load as well as the proper functioning of the crane allow operators to make small adjustments in a controlled situation without putting themselves or other employees at risk. For those concerned about deadlines, consider the short amount of time it would take to perform a trial lift as opposed to the considerable amount of time involved in an incident investigation. This also provides another opportunity to make sure that the load is within the crane’s capacity, which can be broken into smaller loads if necessary.
Remember that many hazards associated with crane operations can be minimized or eliminated through effective industrial safety management programs that include policies that are consistently enforced. A commitment to safety and incident prevention can significantly reduce the number and severity of crane related incidents.